Charlie Brown Syndrome: A Reply to Comrade Villanueva

Attrib: Marc NozellAttrib: Marc Nozell

In a recent article for Bunkermag, Comrade Villanueva attempts to parse through a few positions that the “far-left” have with regard to the presidential candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders. In the article, he describes three groups that roughly correspond with the position that they take toward the Sanders campaign: reformists backing Sanders, revolutionaries disavowing Sanders, and “accelerationists” backing the right-wing so as to provoke revolutionary upheaval. These are followed up by a not so in depth analysis on his own part, in which he baselessly speculates that Sanders is actually far more revolutionary than his campaign would suggest (ignoring the entirety of his political career in the process), as well as makes a few confusing remarks with regard to what defines socialism and closes the article with the utterly absurd line that, “Sometimes even a cancer patient can use a bandage. Not to mention, bread and roses.”

Like many on the so-called “far-left,” Comrade Villanueva suffers from Charlie Brown syndrome. That is, he seems to have be snookered by the idea that “this time it will be different,” much in the same way that Charlie Brown is continuously roped in to trying to kick a football from under Lucy’s finger, only to find that the ball has been yanked away at the last moment. Like Charlie Brown, the “far-left” of the 21st Century is easily duped into thinking that, say, the ‘Pink Tide’ governments in Latin America, or Occupy Wall Street, or #BlackLivesMatter, or SYRIZA, or now Bernie Sanders, will be substantively different from the hundred or so odd failures of the past quarter century. This stems in part from the sorry state of consciousness on the “far-left” today, which less resembles anything approximating Marxism and more closely resembles an amalgamation of radical liberalism, anarchism, and populism.

This is, of course, part of Comrade Villanueva’s problem. He admits as such when declaring himself a “democratic socialist” and heaping praise upon Sanders’ reformist program. The left that has emerged from the ashes of the collapse of the Soviet Union is a left that has democracy as it’s be-all, end-all goal. It has an irrational belief in the power of “democracy” to transform things, be it Richard Wolff absurdly suggesting that transforming a business into a worker self-directed enterprise is an attack on capitalism to the disastrous insistence by anarchists at Occupy Wall Street that everything be done in a ‘leaderless’, ‘horizontal’, and hyper-democratic fashion, so as to ‘prefigure’ the kind of world we want to see ‘after the revolution,’ of course. This vulgar democraticism has no theoretical understanding of the workings of the capitalist state, which is why everyone from Eurocommunists like the SYRIZA leadership to protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, continues to get the football pulled out from under them, time and time again.
Democracy in a capitalist society is, as Lenin put it in The State and Revolution, “Democracy for an insignificant minority, democracy for the rich — that is the democracy of capitalist society.” While this quotation (and the work it appears in) is nearly a century old, it is no less true today than it was in 1917. Democracy in the United States, no less than democracy in Greece, or in Spain, or in the United Kingdom, or in any of the other ‘industrial democracies’ is nothing more than a means by which the ruling class, i.e. the bourgeoisie, resolves its own disputes and maintains the exploitation and oppression of the working class. Viewing this state as anything other than an engine for capital accumulation and the suppression of the working class is not only incorrect from a materialist standpoint, but also leads you into every kind of political error imaginable, from selling off national assets (as SYRIZA has done in Greece) to seriously believing that you can change the behavior of the ‘bodies of armed men’ employed by the state (i.e. the police force and the armed forces) by setting up ‘community control boards.’
The reformists will counter that the state, in the past, has granted concessions to the working class. And that may well be, but in so saying they ignore the context in which they were granted. In the United States, the ruling class accepted New Deal reform legislation in the midst of unprecedented labor struggle in this country and the veiled threat of a revolutionary alternative in the form of growing Communist, Trotskyist, and Socialist parties. Unlike a presumptive President Sanders taking office in January 2017, the Roosevelt administration was dealing with factory occupations on a mass scale, city-wide general strikes, and armed conflicts between striking workers and local police forces.

Likewise, the reformists ignore the subsequent attack on said concessions whenever the crisis period ended. While Roosevelt and his cronies tolerated concessionary measures toward the working class during the depression, they immediately moved to ensure the ability of capital to claw back it’s losses during World War II. The pro-Roosevelt trade union bureaucracy actively helped the administration suppress strikes, reintroduce speed-up conditions on the factory floor, and in general put the workers through the wringer in the name of helping American imperialism vanquish its German and Japanese rivals. After the war, the labor movement attempted an offensive to restore their own purchasing power, but this too was ultimately met with failure as the Truman administration pressed for harsh anti-labor measures (culminating in the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947) and threatened to draft striking workers into the army to ensure ‘labor peace.’
Throughout the so-called ‘boom years’ between 1945 and 1973, the American ruling class began to lay the groundwork for the full-scale destruction of working class power that had emerged out of the valiant organizing drives of the 1930s. The first factories were set up abroad, production was transferred to the non-union South, and new anti-labor legislation was enacted (the Landrum-Griffin Act of 1958 being the most prominent). The 1970s saw the class offensive come out into the open, with massive factory closings continuing into the early 1980s; trade unions were attacked by first the Carter and then the Reagan administrations, if not already brought under the heel of the Department of Justice or the Labor Department by out-bureaucrats seeking office in that period. To top it off, the Clinton administration abolished much of the remaining social welfare programs enacted as concessions to the desperately poor in the 1960s with his ‘welfare-to-work’ scheme, a scheme that has itself been used to depress wages. Today we are governed by an administration whose head boasted that ‘corporate profits were higher than ever’ under his leadership while running for re-election and whose sole priority seems to now be restricting the ability of an increasingly angry American public to purchase firearms.

What then, do the reformists have to say of all this? For them, the decline of the so-called ‘welfare state’ created by the New Deal is the result of having the wrong people in elected office, i.e. of having people who have had the wrong priorities and the wrong ideals running the country since the 1930s. The solution? Elect people like Bernie Sanders, who know what’s wrong and how to fix it. Thus the reformist reveals himself as an idealist, and thus the utopianism of his position becomes all the more apparent.
But wait, scream the reformists. How can you describe ‘reform’ as utopian, but revolution as a plausible alternative? This is the objection of the reformist whenever his position is contrasted with the revolutionary. He is always the ‘level-headed’ one, the one who wants to ‘get things done’, the ‘realist.’ But what’s realistic about believing in something that has more or less already proven itself unable to get the job done? What will make a Sanders administration any different than a Clinton administration? Is it because Sanders is a self-described ‘socialist’? Sanders’ self-definition is less important than his record, which is, at best, that of a radical liberal or a right-wing social democrat, if we’re being especially generous. He’s confined his legislative agenda to postal banking, auditing the federal reserve, and attempting to make tax adjustments for worker cooperatives. Worse, he’s spent his entire congressional career voting to fund American imperialism’s neocolonial wars in the Middle East and backs the subjugation of the Palestinian people by the Israeli government.

Sanders endorsed Bill Clinton for President in the 1990s and has been a backer of the Obama administration since day one. And our reformist friends will tell us it will be different under him because Sanders calls himself a socialist! SYRIZA translates to ‘Coalition of the Radical Left’, I should add here, and that hasn’t stopped them from caving into demands by German imperialism to sell off the productive capacity of Greece in the name of debt reduction. It’s almost as if what one calls themselves is entirely disconnected from what one does!

But, as Comrade Villanueva hints at, what if Sanders is just putting up a front to conceal a more radical agenda? This is highly unlikely, given that a man on the campaign trail would have to have J.J. Abrams-esque silence on something like that to avoid it coming out in the 24 hour cable news cycle in some way or another, be it from a slip up on his own part or via a giddy staffer. However, even if it were true, how does Comrade Villanueva, and how do our reformist friends in general, think that Sanders would enact such an agenda?

Sanders, assuming he’s elected, will come into office with a solidly Republican-controlled Congress, Republican control of state legislatures, and Republican control of a majority of governorships. How will he be able to enact even a tepid agenda focused on building up workers’ cooperatives or enacting tuition free education when the opposition controls the legislature? Even assuming a Democratic held legislature, his prospects do not fare all that better. When President Obama came to office, he had supermajorities in both chambers of Congress and needed every single vote he could get to pass his signature legislative accomplishment, Obamacare, in 2010. It would be a far cry even to assume that Sanders, who is on the left of the Democratic Party, would be able to corral the votes of Democrats for much of anything.

The Democratic Party is, of course, a bourgeois party. Unlike the Labour Party of Jeremy Corbyn, it has no organic link to the working class via the trade unions (although trade unionists may be Democratic Party members, they do not have the kind of institutional presence within the Democratic Party that British trade unionists do within the Labour Party), and relies heavily on money from finance and high tech capital to run its campaigns. It’s chief accomplishments of the past half-century have been the Vietnam War, funding the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, the War in Kosovo, NAFTA, ‘welfare reform’, the Brady Bill, mass incarceration, the expansion of the death penalty, bank bailouts, the auto bailout, austerity, ‘anti-terror’ legislation, domestic spying programs, targeted drone assassinations, the TPP, etc, etc. This party, the one that would-be led by so-called socialist Bernie Sanders, is the one that our ‘level-headed’ reformists tell us will pave the way for American socialism. As if!

Comrade Villanueva caricatures those of us who reject reformism as being unrealistic. In fact, it is simply an understanding of the historical circumstances of the past century, and the failures of reformism therein, that make reformism the truly unrealistic position for any socialist to hold. To call for the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist system is, then, the only real alternative existing for socialists in the 21st Century. The difference between this position and the reformist one could not be more marked, in that one requires conscious effort toward building the kind of working class organizations capable of making that revolution as opposed to simply latching on to the latest left-talking bourgeois politician and calling it a day.

At its root, reformism remains the ‘get rich quick’ variant of left politics, which is why it has embraced everything from ‘alterglobalism’ to Bernie Sanders over the past quarter-century. It reveals an underlying pessimism with regard to the ability of the working class to emancipate itself and feeds into a general melancholy on the left that sees the struggle as having been lost before it was even taken up. We must settle, say the reformists, lest we be confronted with the possibility of actually having to work for our victory.

But, say we revolutionists, to settle without a fight is to give the fight up entirely. Revolution-ism annoys the reformists because it dismisses their illusions in the bourgeois state as the truly utopian position and brings to light the need for long-term, sustained work. Nothing could be more anathema to the reformist, and so he continues on about his way denouncing as fantastic a position with far more grounding in historical reality than anything he professes. The left must reject the vulgar democraticism and pessimism of the reformists in favor of a real orientation toward building the kind of organizations that can (and will) bring down capitalism, once and for all.

Rather than the pessimism of the vulgar democrat or the jaded liberal, we must remember that we live in a time of unprecedented technological development, in which the problems that confronted our forebears in the 19th and 20th Century could be solved much more easily. Has organizing an ‘international’ ever been easier than in an era with planet-wide internet connectivity? Have Marxist works ever been as widely available as they are today? Computer technology and improved logistics networks have made possible solutions for the planning problems incurred by 20th Century planned economies. With automation and 3D printing, arduous work and scarcity could very well become things of the past. And yet, these technologies, and the amazing liberatory potential of them all, are closed off to us by the capitalist mode of production.
To a society enslaved by the machine, we must declare ourselves in favor of the subjugation of the machine, and it’s productive capabilities, to mankind. To a left stuck in a recurring cycle of attempting to kick the football only to have it pulled from under them, we must take the football. The only hope we have of escaping inter-imperialist war or outright slavery is to do just that – to reconstruct the Marxist left and to smash, not take over, the bourgeois state. Anything else is just a diversion, and only puts us one step closer to the “common ruin of the contending classes.”

12 Comments on "Charlie Brown Syndrome: A Reply to Comrade Villanueva"

  1. Victor Villanueva | January 11, 2016 at 11:30 pm | Reply

    Excuse me if I take a moment to reply to your charges, if not an entirely new article.

    >These are followed up by a not so in depth analysis on his own part, in which he baselessly speculates that Sanders is actually far more revolutionary than his campaign would suggest (ignoring the entirety of his political career in the process)
    If you’ll recall, I never called Sanders a revolutionary. The whole point of the article was that he was not. I described him as potentially more radical than he was letting on. Something that makes a lot of sense considering he has to appeal to a national electorate that has received metric tons of propoganda saying how socialism killed millions.

    > as well as makes a few confusing remarks with regard to what defines socialism and closes the article with the utterly absurd line that, “Sometimes even a cancer patient can use a bandage. Not to mention, bread and roses.”

    Absurdity is a matter of perspective. And regardless, what did I get wrong in my definition of socialism?

    >That is, he seems to have be snookered by the idea that “this time it will be different,”

    You could say the exact same thing for the revolutions.

    >the “far-left” of the 21st Century is easily duped into thinking that, say, the ‘Pink Tide’ governments in Latin America, or Occupy Wall Street, or #BlackLivesMatter, or SYRIZA, or now Bernie Sanders,

    I have never once said nor believed that any of those things would directly bring about socialism. The pink tide was social democracy at best and massive incompetence at its worst. Occupy wall street never attempted to nor could have changed anything effectively, except perhaps setting the stage for anti-wall street sentiments among democrats. BLM is too infused with liberalism and intersectional feminism to make anything save the most superficial of changes. And SYRIZA perhaps never stood a chance against the pressure of the larger economies of europe. With Bernie Sanders, at least there are some concrete things we can try to do to make things better, things that could actually work in the long term.

    > This stems in part from the sorry state of consciousness on the “far-left” today, which less resembles anything approximating Marxism and more closely resembles an amalgamation of radical liberalism, anarchism, and populism.

    You and I both know there are bastions of the far-left that are all about marxism, or ideologies formed from its tenants. We both came here from one of those bastions. And as for Sanders, at least he has read marx.

    > The left that has emerged from the ashes of the collapse of the Soviet Union is a left that has democracy as it’s be-all, end-all goal.

    Perhaps some anarchists believe that. But democracy is not my end goal, it is only a tool with which we can bring about and implement socialism. The method of government in the old communist bloc didn’t do anything to represent or protect workers effectively.

    >It has an irrational belief in the power of “democracy” to transform things, be it Richard Wolff absurdly suggesting that transforming a business into a worker self-directed enterprise is an attack on capitalism

    Why isn’t it though? I’ll give you that the anarchists ideas about horizontal leadership are bullshit, but if we do as Wolff suggests, we are actually changing the relation of workers to the means of production. That’s something revolutionary!

    >This vulgar democraticism has no theoretical understanding of the workings of the capitalist state, which is why everyone from Eurocommunists like the SYRIZA leadership to protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, continues to get the football pulled out from under them, time and time again.

    Pragmatism is why we do this. Theory can only take us so far. Many states in the communist bloc failed in thanks to their own dogmatism. And if you’ll recall, it was the people of Greece, not the SYRIZA leadership who got the football pulled out from under them. Also, the Ferguson protesters weren’t socialists or anti-capitalists. At least not most of them.

    >Democracy in a capitalist society is, as Lenin put it in The State and Revolution, “Democracy for an insignificant minority, democracy for the rich — that is the democracy of capitalist society.”

    Because Lenin’s non-democratic state worked out so well for the russian people, didn’t it! The fact is, a well organized proletariat with political cunning can have democracy work for them. They could have resolved the vietnam war with nuclear bombs. But why didn’t they? Because it would be a political nightmare. And what do we mean when we say that? We mean that the democratic institutions the capitalists created held them back! Democracy is a tool, and just like the guns the Bolsheviks brought against the capitalists, it can be used to our advantage.

    >Democracy in the United States, no less than democracy in Greece, or in Spain, or in the United Kingdom, or in any of the other ‘industrial democracies’ is nothing more than a means by which the ruling class, i.e. the bourgeoisie, resolves its own disputes and maintains the exploitation and oppression of the working class.

    But that’s not the only thing that happens! Regulations hold back the full force of capitalist exploitation. And why? Because politicians must balance the wishes of capitalists with the passions of the workers. Elections are a sword of Damocles, one much easier to use than open revolt. And if used correctly, it can constrain capitalism and eventually eliminate it if the proper material conditions are met (much easier than in non-democratic capitalist countries I might add).

    >Viewing this state as anything other than an engine for capital accumulation and the suppression of the working class is not only incorrect from a materialist standpoint, but also leads you into every kind of political error imaginable

    The fact that western democracies are not as much of a hell-hole as state-capitalist china disproves this. The systems which make up a state are a part of the material conditions.

    >Unlike a presumptive President Sanders taking office in January 2017, the Roosevelt administration was dealing with factory occupations on a mass scale, city-wide general strikes, and armed conflicts between striking workers and local police forces.

    Roosevelt took many of the new deal ideas from the socialists parties at the time. Just imagine for a moment if one of those socialists had been elected instead. You know, like Eugene Debs. The guys Sanders has a portrait of in his office. Sanders has openly acknowledged that without massive political engagement by the workers. And since organized labor can’t be counted to do that with strikes, he’ll have to rely on them protesting, petitioning, and voting.

    >After the war, the labor movement attempted an offensive to restore their own purchasing power, but this too was ultimately met with failure as the Truman administration pressed for harsh anti-labor measures (culminating in the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947) and threatened to draft striking workers into the army to ensure ‘labor peace.’

    Truman was an asshole. What else is new?

    >Throughout the so-called ‘boom years’ between 1945 and 1973, the American ruling class began to lay the groundwork for the full-scale destruction of working class power…

    All true. And guess what else happened during this period and since then? People have been participating less and less in the political process. But in the last couple of years, that’s changing. And do you know what else has changed with increased voter participation? The collapse of neo-liberalism as an ideology among winning politicians.

    >What then, do the reformists have to say of all this? For them, the decline of the so-called ‘welfare state’ created by the New Deal is the result of having the wrong people in elected office, i.e. of having people who have had the wrong priorities and the wrong ideals running the country since the 1930s. The solution? Elect people like Bernie Sanders, who know what’s wrong and how to fix it. Thus the reformist reveals himself as an idealist, and thus the utopianism of his position becomes all the more apparent.

    Give us some credit. We still believe in dialectics. Why were these people in office who catered to the capitalists? Because the material conditions no longer created a crisis for the working class. They relaxed, participated less, and were encouraged to by the capitalists, not to mention manipulated by portraying leftism as a foreign entity in the communist bloc and the ussr. Is it really utopian to believe putting our collective power behind a socialist would result in some better conditions for the working class?

    >But wait, scream the reformists. How can you describe ‘reform’ as utopian, but revolution as a plausible alternative? This is the objection of the reformist whenever his position is contrasted with the revolutionary. He is always the ‘level-headed’ one, the one who wants to ‘get things done’, the ‘realist.’ But what’s realistic about believing in something that has more or less already proven itself unable to get the job done?

    The same could be said of “revolution.” Revolution is only possible when the material conditions for revolution exist. Take a leaf out of the accelerationist’s book. Revolution was always only possible when the contradictions and suffering of capitalism were too massive to be ignored by the general population, and often times, without pragmatic politics and effective accountability to the workers, these revolutions failed. The fact of the matter is that there is no revolutionary potential among workers in the United States, on the micro level, it is not rational for them to take up arms against the system as the suffering they would cause to themselves and others they care about would be greater than the amount of suffering the system has currently leveled at them. If you want to change this, you must be willing to create material conditions which increase suffering among the working class.

    >Sanders endorsed Bill Clinton for President in the 1990s and has been a backer of the Obama administration since day one. And our reformist friends will tell us it will be different under him because Sanders calls himself a socialist!

    This, and the previous things you mentioned, are the price of pragmatism. He is playing politics, just like he has to, in order to be positioned to make a difference. Without his endorsement, all those things still would have happened and those candidates would have succeeded. But with his endorsement, he is positioned to make the lives of working class voters better and fight the capitalists by gaining actual power.

    >This is highly unlikely, given that a man on the campaign trail would have to have J.J. Abrams-esque silence on something like that to avoid it coming out in the 24 hour cable news cycle in some way or another, be it from a slip up on his own part or via a giddy staffer.

    Seriously? He’s not scheming and rubbing his hands together like a /pol/ caricature, he’s just not talking about it and self censoring. It’s not that bold of an idea.

    >Sanders, assuming he’s elected, will come into office with a solidly Republican-controlled Congress, Republican control of state legislatures, and Republican control of a majority of governorships. How will he be able to enact even a tepid agenda focused on building up workers’ cooperatives or enacting tuition free education when the opposition controls the legislature?

    Like I said earlier, he knows damn well that these things will only happen if workers engage in the political system.

    >This party, the one that would-be led by so-called socialist Bernie Sanders, is the one that our ‘level-headed’ reformists tell us will pave the way for American socialism. As if!

    I wouldn’t deny that the democratic party establishment is beholden to bourgeoisie interests. Our goal is to change that.

    >Has organizing an ‘international’ ever been easier than in an era with planet-wide internet connectivity? Have Marxist works ever been as widely available as they are today? Computer technology and improved logistics networks have made possible solutions for the planning problems incurred by 20th Century planned economies. With automation and 3D printing, arduous work and scarcity could very well become things of the past. And yet, these technologies, and the amazing liberatory potential of them all, are closed off to us by the capitalist mode of production.

    No, they are only closed off if you are unwilling to find ways to get them and use them. And if you want to organize an international, go right ahead. I support the socialist project in Rojava, and I’ve written as such here. There is probably no better material conditions for a revolution than there.

    >The only hope we have of escaping inter-imperialist war or outright slavery is to do just that – to reconstruct the Marxist left and to smash, not take over, the bourgeois state.

    The problem is that the material conditions for that scenario do not exist in the United States! When you don’t have the equipment to treat a cancer patient, what do you do? You give them food, tend to their symptoms, and make them as comfortable as possible until said time you do have the equipment or they die. Band-aids, bread and roses. That is our job. Anything else may prove fatal in the world we live in.

    Also, sorry I couldn’t fix the paragraphing. Everytime I tried to fix it in the draft it just came back after I updated.

    • Eugene J. Davis | January 13, 2016 at 5:22 pm | Reply

      “And regardless, what did I get wrong in my definition of socialism?”

      You seem to imply near the close of your article a ‘true socialist’ would advocate, “advocate for worker control of the means of production.” In and of itself this seems harmless enough, but from your vantage point (that is, democratic socialism), “worker control of the means of production,” means something very specific, i.e. support for workers’ self-management schemes, cooperatives, etc. This as such is not socialism, because socialism presupposes real workers’ control, which cannot be limited to “socialism in one factory,” prattling on about ‘workers self-directed enterprises,’ etc. Real workers control means the whole of the economy, and not just one factory or one cooperative, is placed under the collective control of the working class as a class. This is the fundamental conflict between petty bourgeois anarchism (which seeks in vain to restore the position of the old artisanal petty bourgeois via the cooperative model), democratic socialism (which heavily blends with the aforementioned anarchism while also picking and choosing from social democracy with regard to state ownership), and genuine Marxism, which is far less concerned with the internal structure of an enterprise than it is which class owns the means of production.

      Perhaps this is semantics, but I tend to think it underlies a more general problem on the left, which is a lack of understanding as to what a feasible (as opposed to a utopian) post-capitalist society is necessarily going to look like. You’re not going to be able to have socialism in any real sense if your economy is based upon small or even medium sized cooperatives, which don’t have an incentive to produce over and above the value the workers put into said enterprises and thus won’t be inclined toward any sort of innovative development which could pave the way for the ultimate reduction in working time and increased automation. Cooperatives are useful insofar as they show that capitalists are unnecessary in the production process, but beyond that, they pose no challenge to capitalism whatsoever and ultimately reproduce capitalist social relations as profit-driven entities.

      “You could say the exact same thing for the revolutions. “

      Except that you can’t, because there hasn’t been a social revolution akin to the Russian or Chinese revolutions in nearly eighty years. We have had, however, eighty plus years of reformism to judge for ourselves how effective that’s been.

      “…and SYRIZA perhaps never stood a chance against the pressure of the larger economies of europe.”

      SYRIZA never had any intent of taking on German imperialism. It was (and is still) committed to maintaining Greek membership within the Eurozone at all costs. It never attempted to take on German imperialism even in a tepid fashion, and thus confined itself to managing Greek capitalism within the framework of the imperialist European Union.

      “With Bernie Sanders, at least there are some concrete things we can try to do to make things better, things that could actually work in the long term.”

      How will Bernie Sanders manage to accomplish anything with a Republican-held Congress, Republican control of Governorships and state legislatures, a conservative Supreme Court, and as head of a party in which the center-left of that party is a distinct minority, as opposed to the wing that is funded and supported by Wall Street?

      “You and I both know there are bastions of the far-left that are all about marxism, or ideologies formed from its tenants.”

      Yes, and they’re garbage.

      “And as for Sanders, at least he has read marx. “

      Do you have a source on that? Even so, there are plenty of people who have read Marx and have either misinterpreted him or didn’t understand what they read. Reading Marx is not immunization against drawing the wrong political and social conclusions from the world around you.

      “The method of government in the old communist bloc didn’t do anything to represent or protect workers effectively. “

      No, it didn’t. The Stalinist bureaucracies of the old Soviet Union and its allied states effectively squashed democratic working class participation in politics. But this was the result of the ultimate isolation of the Russian Revolution and its subsequent degeneration into rule by bureaucracy. Nevertheless, these states represented a historic advance for the working class in terms of establishing guarantees to housing, medical care, education, employment, etc.

      However inadequate those advances were on account of the backward material position of these countries, they are still far beyond anything that the working classes of the West achieved even in their heyday and represent something worthy of defense, even if the political structure of those states per se was and is not.

      “Why isn’t it though? I’ll give you that the anarchists ideas about horizontal leadership are bullshit, but if we do as Wolff suggests, we are actually changing the relation of workers to the means of production. That’s something revolutionary!”

      But you’re not changing the relationship of workers to the means of production, because ultimately you’re just transforming workers into a kind of collective capitalist. Cooperatives are revolutionary only in the sense that they prove that production can be undertaken without capitalists, but are ultimately limited by the fact that they exist within capitalist society and are driven by that society toward dissolution or adaptation to capitalist norms in order to continue existing.

      “Pragmatism is why we do this. Theory can only take us so far. Many states in the communist bloc failed in thanks to their own dogmatism.“

      This isn’t pragmatism, it’s full-on opportunism. You’re subordinating the class struggle for the end of electing a bourgeois politician seeking to lead a bourgeois party, and all in the name of making ‘socialism’ mainstream. The states of the old Soviet bloc did not fail on account of ‘dogmatism’, they failed because (a) they were deliberately undermined by the capitalist classes of every major imperial power; (b) the material conditions that they rested upon were inadequate to sustain the planned economies that were brought into being by their respective revolutionary breaks with capitalism; and (c) the Stalinist bureaucracies of those countries capitulated to imperialism when the going got tough and allowed restoration of capitalism without firing a single shot.

      “Because Lenin’s non-democratic state worked out so well for the russian people, didn’t it! “

      Again, I would argue that the Soviet Union in practice worked out to some degree quite well for the average person, who enjoyed a better material standard of living (all things considered) under the USSR than they do in Putin’s Russia, where capitalism has been restored in full. Beyond that, the charge that Lenin’s government was substantively ‘non-democratic’ is ludicrous unless judged by the standards of bourgeois democracy, i.e. unless you believe that banning parties that are actively trying to overthrow the government and restore capitalism is ‘undemocratic.’

      “The fact is, a well organized proletariat with political cunning can have democracy work for them.”

      Except that a well organized proletariat with political cunning wouldn’t waste it’s time on trying to take control of a government that is explicitly designed to exploit and oppress them. Bourgeois democracy cannot work for the proletariat, no matter how well organized, because it isn’t designed to. Bourgeois democracy is the rule of the class enemy, for the class enemy. The recent history of Western Europe (with its mass Socialist and Communist parties) proves that to be the case, from the selling out of the PCF of the May ’68 revolutionaries to the failure of the Labour Party to implement anything close to its ‘Clause IV’ commitment to ‘socialism’ to the complete and utter betrayals foisted upon the working class by the PCI, the SPD, etc. The longer you swim in the waters of bourgeois democracy, the greater the pressure tor full on reformism and opportunism become.

      “Regulations hold back the full force of capitalist exploitation. And why? Because politicians must balance the wishes of capitalists with the passions of the workers.”

      Except that they don’t, because regulations aren’t designed to do anything other than give the capitalists more direct control of the sectors that they operate within. If any regulation were really disadvantageous to capital, would it really be implemented by politicians who rely on capital for funding? Regulatory guidelines create bureaucracies which end up being staffed by the ‘regulated’, e.g. the oil companies running the Department of the Interior, big agribusiness running the farm bureau, etc. In effect, regulation means granting more power and control to monopoly capital while presenting the guise of ‘change’ in favor of the public. One only needs to read up on the latest round of ‘bank regulations’ passed under Barack Obama to see that as the case.

      Politicians in the US and in the imperialist powers more generally have no interest in the opinions of workers and readily seek to exclude them from public participation insofar as possible, from implementing things like Voter ID laws to felony disenfranchisement statutes.

      “The fact that western democracies are not as much of a hell-hole as state-capitalist china disproves this. The systems which make up a state are a part of the material conditions. “

      “Western democracies are not much of a hell-hole,” is probably news to anyone who actually works for a living, who tries to juggle two or three jobs to make ends meet, etc. The western ‘democracies’ are a living hell for anyone who isn’t bourgeois or petty bourgeois, although the hell is masked by varying degrees through ideological training, schooling, the church, etc.

      I’m not going to bother engaging with you on China, as it’s clear from your description of China as ‘state capitalist’ (a meaningless, anarcho-populist buzzword with no clear definition) that you haven’t spent so much as a second researching it.

      “And do you know what else has changed with increased voter participation? The collapse of neo-liberalism as an ideology among winning politicians. “

      Except that it hasn’t. SYRIZA is implementing “neoliberal” policies in Greece while waving a red flag. Podemos is not even officially anti-capitalist, and the parties that seem to have benefitted the most from opposition to “neoliberalism” are right-wing populists, who will, of course, likewise implement the same policies if put into power, albeit while doing a Hitler salute.

      “Is it really utopian to believe putting our collective power behind a socialist would result in some better conditions for the working class? “

      Yes, because it is wholly utopian to think that a state created to exploit and oppress the working class could ever be conquered by that class and used to do the opposite. The class rule of the bourgeoisie must be smashed, and that means destroying the state that helps it maintain its rule.

      “I wouldn’t deny that the democratic party establishment is beholden to bourgeoisie interests. Our goal is to change that.”

      So in your mind, organizing workers for revolutionary overthrow of capitalism is ‘utopian’, but transforming the party of the Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow, mass incarceration, the atomic bomb, etc. into a ‘socialist’ party isn’t?

      “There is probably no better material conditions for a revolution than there. “

      It’s clear that you don’t understand what “material conditions” mean, given that here you’re saying that the “material conditions” for a successful social revolution exist among a semi-tribal region inhabited by peasant farmers and petty bourgeois shopkeepers.

      • Victor Villanueva | January 13, 2016 at 11:23 pm | Reply

        >This as such is not socialism, because socialism presupposes real workers’ control, which cannot be limited to “socialism in one factory,” prattling on about ‘workers self-directed enterprises,’ etc. Real workers control means the whole of the economy, and not just one factory or one cooperative, is placed under the collective control of the working class as a class.
        You do realize that democratic socialists advocate this too, right? A democratic socialist society would likely have major utilities and industries owned by the public, as this would be in the public’s best interest to have these products and services available to all. However, the centrally planned economies of the USSR and maoist china had trouble micromanaging, and Mao’s especially was vulnerable to incompetence (something I doubt would have happened if his regime was held democratically accountable), which is why non-essentially industries would be operated by co-ops. Personally, I like Bookchin’s ideas about removing the distinction between political and economic decisions in a democracy, and focusing these decisions on a municipal level. This ensures that each community has their needs met.

        >Except that you can’t, because there hasn’t been a social revolution akin to the Russian or Chinese revolutions in nearly eighty years.
        Probably because of the paranoid purges under stalin and the massive incompetence under mao. People tend to try and avoid the mistakes of the past, ie, blindly fallowing charismatic leaders, one of the things most old style communist revolutions had in common.

        >We have had, however, eighty plus years of reformism to judge for ourselves how effective that’s been.
        Except we haven’t. Rightists and neo-liberals have practically won the west for the past half century.

        >It was (and is still) committed to maintaining Greek membership within the Eurozone at all costs. It never attempted to take on German imperialism even in a tepid fashion, and thus confined itself to managing Greek capitalism within the framework of the imperialist European Union.
        …ok. That doesn’t exactly repudiate what I said. They didn’t stand up to them because they couldn’t, or at least perceived that they couldn’t.

        >How will Bernie Sanders manage to accomplish anything with a Republican-held Congress, Republican control of Governorships and state legislatures, a conservative Supreme Court, and as head of a party in which the center-left of that party is a distinct minority, as opposed to the wing that is funded and supported by Wall Street?
        If he becomes president then it’s likely he would have won back the senate and made gains in the house. Federal law is supreme over state law. And he’ll probably be making some supreme court appointments during his tenure. The democratic party has gone farther left than it was even ten years ago. They’ll prefer sanders over the republicans any day.

        >Do you have a source on that? Even so, there are plenty of people who have read Marx and have either misinterpreted him or didn’t understand what they read. Reading Marx is not immunization against drawing the wrong political and social conclusions from the world around you.
        I have to believe he’s had to espouse what he did earlier in his life. Not to mention, when he was on a kibbutntz in isreal, he said the commune lifestyle inspired him in part to believe socialism and a “less alienating form of labor” was possible.

        >No, it didn’t. The Stalinist bureaucracies of the old Soviet Union and its allied states effectively squashed democratic working class participation in politics. But this was the result of the ultimate isolation of the Russian Revolution and its subsequent degeneration into rule by bureaucracy.
        Ah, but the during world war two, the USSR was no longer isolated from the world and western powers worked with it and traded with it. But that didn’t change anything about its government.

        >Nevertheless, these states represented a historic advance for the working class in terms of establishing guarantees to housing, medical care, education, employment, etc.
        I won’t deny that. But there were still massive inefficiencies, much like under capitalism, and not to mention, Russian imperialism certainly made it easier for the western capitalists to sell to the general population that the USSR was an “evil empire.”

        >But you’re not changing the relationship of workers to the means of production, because ultimately you’re just transforming workers into a kind of collective capitalist.
        Co-ops are just a part of a larger vision for a socialist society, as I mentioned earlier. Sanders is building the ground-work for that vision becoming a reality.

        >This isn’t pragmatism, it’s full-on opportunism. You’re subordinating the class struggle for the end of electing a bourgeois politician seeking to lead a bourgeois party, and all in the name of making ‘socialism’ mainstream.

        And what would you like class struggle to look like? No significant amount of people are going to put their lives on the line in the United States for socialism unless there is a massive collapse of the economy. You might just want to wait until that collapse, but I’d rather make things better for workers right now.

        >The states of the old Soviet bloc did not fail on account of ‘dogmatism’,
        Zizek would disagree.

        >they failed because (a) they were deliberately undermined by the capitalist classes of every major imperial power;
        Something that would have been much harder to sell to the populations of those powers if the communist bloc had not been so hostile to the west, especially with Russia using its doctrine as a thinly veiled attempt at imperialism itself. You might even remember that the USSR supported the nationalist government of china.

        >(b) the material conditions that they rested upon were inadequate to sustain the planned economies that were brought into being by their respective revolutionary breaks with capitalism;
        Full communism brought about by revolution is only possible when it goes global for this very reason. Communism cannot compete economically with capitalism economically. However, if the US, the world’s largest economy, was to embrace a socialist mode of production, I’m sure you’d find many others would follow.

        >and (c) the Stalinist bureaucracies of those countries capitulated to imperialism when the going got tough and allowed restoration of capitalism without firing a single shot.
        They failed far before that. The material conditions in the communist bloc were less attractive than those in the western countries.

        >Again, I would argue that the Soviet Union in practice worked out to some degree quite well for the average person, who enjoyed a better material standard of living (all things considered) under the USSR than they do in Putin’s Russia, where capitalism has been restored in full.
        Capitalism, I might add, without any reforms.

        Also, in a post scarcity society (something we may see by the end of the century thanks to automation), democratic states with reformist influenced economies would be much better positioned to make the transition to socialism than autocratic ones.

        >Beyond that, the charge that Lenin’s government was substantively ‘non-democratic’ is ludicrous unless judged by the standards of bourgeois democracy, i.e. unless you believe that banning parties that are actively trying to overthrow the government and restore capitalism is ‘undemocratic.’
        He didn’t just ban those parties tho.

        >Except that a well organized proletariat with political cunning wouldn’t waste it’s time on trying to take control of a government that is explicitly designed to exploit and oppress them.
        The united states government was formed to balance the interests of agrarian aristocrats(who took part in an economy similar to feudalism) and the bourgeoisie capitalists, and formed its state institutions thusly and only gave non-black males who owned property the right to vote (the ruling class of the time). Overtime, the people eroded their monopoly on the government as more and more were granted the right to vote and participate in government. While not ideal, the system of voting to choose representatives can be used to bring about reform and socialism because now all people are allowed to participate in the deal that shares power in the country.

        As for Europe, its governments, besides Britain’s (which was a precursor to the US model of government), were designed to emulate the governments of the US and the UK as a part of a cultural and ideological export from the US in an effort to combat communism, yes, but not because of the machinations of evil capitalists, but because it was an ideological imperative for liberals(in the classical sense). These governments were not designed to oppress the workers, they only did so because they participated in a capitalist economy.

        >Except that they don’t, because regulations aren’t designed to do anything other than give the capitalists more direct control of the sectors that they operate within.
        That’s patently not true. If that were the case, why would industries such as oil and banking try so hard to be deregulated?

        >One only needs to read up on the latest round of ‘bank regulations’ passed under Barack Obama to see that as the case.
        Which undid many regulations put in place during the first term of his presidency. New people came in and Obama, being pretty much a neo-liberal, cared more about his precious social issues, didn’t care.

        >Politicians in the US and in the imperialist powers more generally have no interest in the opinions of workers and readily seek to exclude them from public participation insofar as possible, from implementing things like Voter ID laws to felony disenfranchisement statutes.
        Of course they don’t want to have to deal with them, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have to. Just look at all the pandering in election season.

        >I’m not going to bother engaging with you on China, as it’s clear from your description of China as ‘state capitalist’ (a meaningless, anarcho-populist buzzword with no clear definition) that you haven’t spent so much as a second researching it.
        And how would you describe China’s condition? If you’d actually describe it as communist then I’m wasting my time here.

        >Except that it hasn’t. SYRIZA is implementing “neoliberal” policies in Greece while waving a red flag.
        I was referring to the US context. Even Hillary is basically advocating for social democracy now.

        >Yes, because it is wholly utopian to think that a state created to exploit and oppress the working class could ever be conquered by that class and used to do the opposite.
        Why? The fact is, what we do does effect our state. Perhaps not always in the way we want, but as long as there is a connection between the decisions of the state and the will of the people, there is hope.

        >The class rule of the bourgeoisie must be smashed, and that means destroying the state that helps it maintain its rule.
        And how do you plan to accomplish that?

        >So in your mind, organizing workers for revolutionary overthrow of capitalism is ‘utopian’, but transforming the party of the Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow, mass incarceration, the atomic bomb, etc. into a ‘socialist’ party isn’t?
        The democratic party is as much the party of the Ku Klux Klan as the republican party is the party of Lincoln.

        >It’s clear that you don’t understand what “material conditions” mean, given that here you’re saying that the “material conditions” for a successful social revolution exist among a semi-tribal region inhabited by peasant farmers and petty bourgeois shopkeepers.

        What? Do honestly believe that the only material conditions for a successful revolution is a factory working proletariat? Mao may have been an idiot, but even he proved that wrong.

        And regardless, they do have a revolution going on, which is proof enough for me that they have the material conditions for it.

  2. >“The left that has emerged from the ashes of the collapse of the Soviet Union is a left that has democracy as it’s be-all, end-all goal.”

    If only you had any sense of self-awareness. Wow. Socialists that want democracy – how petty bourgeois!

    >“In the United States, the ruling class accepted New Deal reform legislation in the midst of unprecedented labor struggle in this country and the veiled threat of a revolutionary alternative in the form of growing Communist, Trotskyist, and Socialist parties.”

    There is something here that you seem to not understand. We don’t live in an era where communists, Trotskyist (who apparently need to be singled out from communists) and Socialist parties are threatening any sort of revolutionary change in any meaningful context so we shouldn’t be treating our current situation as if it that were the case. Supporting Bernie Sanders while we continue in the process of organizing, protesting, and advocating socialism seem to me like they’re not mutually exclusive actions and in fact preferable.

    I find it hard to believe that people can’t see the benefits of having someone in office that isn’t a war hawk, racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamaphobic, or whatever the case might be. Even if it is just for the very real and very impactful effects of Supreme Court judges that the president gets to nominate and allows us to make huge strides forward or backwards– effects that last for generations. That people are so focused on proving how radical they are that they’re willing to completely ignore something as real and powerful as state control by someone who is not on the opposite of their political stance. “It’s a bourgeois democracy, who cares if Trump or Sanders wins – at the end of the day they both have the same views. And also I’m not an accelerationist”. It’s so silly.

    • Eugene J. Davis | January 13, 2016 at 5:33 pm | Reply

      “If only you had any sense of self-awareness. Wow. Socialists that want democracy – how petty bourgeois!”

      Democracy as the be-all, end-all goal has replaced communism as the be-all, end-all goal. This is the problem, not democracy per se, but rather, the limited horizons of the post-Soviet ‘left.’

      “There is something here that you seem to not understand. We don’t live in an era where communists, Trotskyist (who apparently need to be singled out from communists) and Socialist parties are threatening any sort of revolutionary change in any meaningful context so we shouldn’t be treating our current situation as if it that were the case. Supporting Bernie Sanders while we continue in the process of organizing, protesting, and advocating socialism seem to me like they’re not mutually exclusive actions and in fact preferable.”

      I certainly understand the context of today differs from the context of the 1930s, but that actually makes your position less comprehensible, not mine. The strategy of backing a single ‘socialist’ seeking the Presidency would make *more* sense in a context wherein there are competing left tendencies that could force the state to grant concessions, would it not? How would electing the same person in lieu of that lead to anything other than abdicating the possibility of building something long-term in favor of defending the ‘socialist’ in the White House against fellow bourgeois competitors for office? The Sanders campaign is a distraction from building something that could, in the long term, develop into a revolutionary mass not only capable of winning concessions from the bourgeoisie, but overthrowing it.

      “I find it hard to believe that people can’t see the benefits of having someone in office that isn’t a war hawk, racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamaphobic, or whatever the case might be.”

      Bernie’s not a war hawk? That’s news to me, given that he voted for the War in Afghanistan and has consistently voted to fund U.S. imperialism’s murderous neocolonial wars in the Middle East and elsewhere. There’s also the thorny issue of his being a Zionist who will back Israel to the hilt, which doesn’t distinguish him in the least from any of his competitors, all of whom are completely committed to U.S. imperialism’s designs on the region.

      Likewise, I don’t think Sanders stands out in particular for any of the other reasons you mentioned. Besides the fringe candidates (Cruz, Carson) none of the people running for President are actually Islamophobic (Trump is clearly just talking out of his ass to win over the deranged elements of the Republican base), few are sexist (see the aforementioned nuts), and only the Republican conservatives are visibly homophobic. Every single candidate is committed to upholding US imperialism’s foreign policy agenda of neocolonial domination of the ‘Third World’ and the ultimate destruction of China.

      Also, I never said that Trump and Sanders have the same views, but as you say in your last paragraph as a caricature of my own position, it really doesn’t matter in the long run. That much is true, because at the end of the day either Trump or Sanders would be administering a state that exploits and oppresses the working class and maintains imperial domination of peoples the globe over, all in the name of American capital. You might think it’s capable of putting lipstick on that pig by electing Sanders, but for those of us living in the real world, it isn’t. Sanders would be but a ‘socialist’ commander in chief of US imperialism.

  3. “this time it will be different,” should NOT ONLY be applied to politicians, but also to the “resistance” position. Those who kept ideological purity have been defeated again and again and again. Resistance politics keeps the left empty, with no positive content and with no attraction power over anybody who is not already convinced.

    If we are really materialists, ideas should be measured by their actual effect in the material conditions of the workers of this world, and resistance politics have been a proven terrible idea so far, with no influence whatsoever over the working conditions and with no credible voice in public discourse.

    Of course Bernie won’t give Americans any kind of communist revolution and will betray his principles as soon as he gets into the government. But having him around can change the public discourse and may push people to even more radical positions. The only effect we will achieve by not voting and ranting about him, is being able to stroke our ideological dick at night while we are defeated but happy in our comfortable resistance position.

    • Eugene J. Davis | January 13, 2016 at 5:42 pm | Reply

      ““this time it will be different,” should NOT ONLY be applied to politicians, but also to the “resistance” position. Those who kept ideological purity have been defeated again and again and again. Resistance politics keeps the left empty, with no positive content and with no attraction power over anybody who is not already convinced.”

      This isn’t true, and beyond that, it again opens up the possibility of yet more opportunism, yet more reformism. We must discard our principles because they’re ‘not popular’ or ‘not going to win anyone over.’ In fact, we should be doing the opposite – intervening with what we know to be true when the moment is right. We live in a particularly reactionary period, a time in which what we are saying may not be popular. But that doesn’t mean we should adapt ourselves to the backwards consciousness of the here and now in order to make short term gains. Capitalism generates its own crises and the future will be no different – we must be ready and willing to intervene with the correct program when the time comes, as opposed to making concessions to bourgeois public opinion or faddism now and then coming up empty in the future.

      “If we are really materialists, ideas should be measured by their actual effect in the material conditions of the workers of this world, and resistance politics have been a proven terrible idea so far, with no influence whatsoever over the working conditions and with no credible voice in public discourse.”

      I can’t even decipher this paragraph. Would you mind either fleshing it out a bit more or re-phrasing it?

      “The only effect we will achieve by not voting and ranting about him, is being able to stroke our ideological dick at night while we are defeated but happy in our comfortable resistance position.”

      As opposed to voting for him and telling others to vote for him and then watching as he maintains and deepens austerity, alienating the working class from him, and by extension us, as we’re the ones who cheerleaded for him? How will that help us in the long run? If anything, it will further discredit the left in the eyes of the working class, who will have been yet again sold a bad bill of goods by a ‘left’ that is more interested in saying that it was ‘part of the process’ than smashing the process to pieces.

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