Thursday, October 22, 2020


THE NATURE OF PARLIAMENTARY PARTIES

There is unhappiness among many Green Party of Canada supporters that the “establishment” candidate won the leadership. This after the GPC “establishment” weighed in against the eco-socialist candidates. There is also the generations-long failed attempts to drag the NDP to the left, an act of masochism, if there ever was. Usually people blame the party leadership for selling out or being undemocratic. This is only a superficial way of looking at the problem.

Parliamentary parties of the left always start out militant and radical. Over time they move increasingly to the right. It happens so often, it is almost like a law of nature. All contemporary social democratic parties started out as socialist parties whose goal was to replace capitalism with socialism the moment they achieved power. Within two decades these parties became purely reformist and socialism was for “Sunday sermons.” By the 1990s they had abandoned even the goal of significant reforms within capitalism and embraced neoliberal ideology. These parties – including the NDP – are now center parties. Many of the Green Parties have had a somewhat similar trajectory, starting in the 1980s as very anarchistic and New Left and then evolving more toward typical parliamentary parties. (The difference with the social democratic parties is the Greens become moderate without abandoning the core of their platform – ecological sanity)

When something happens constantly like this you have to look for systemic and structural causes. The cause for the slide to centrism by radical parties can be found in two areas. 1. The nature of parliamentary politics and the effect it has on parties who are serious about engaging in the such politics. 2. The internal structure of the political party.

A tiny, irrelevant sect can remain pure, but once you are serious about getting elected you are bound to make compromises. First off, your platform has to be broad and inclusive enough to draw in voters. Once elected, you have to get results otherwise you won't get re-elected. This means compromise and trade-offs with groups to your right. Compromise can quickly become a habit. The longer one is reelected the more one begins to think like a parliamentarian and less like the ordinary Janes and Joes who elect you.

You want to run candidates who are electable – this means people who are photogenic, say the right things and become “personalities.” They may not, however, be the most radical or ideological of party members. As the party gains influence the ideological become increasingly seen as a threat to getting MP's elected. When a party gets politically established, the MPs take on an ever greater leadership role. They, and their handlers, begin to take the party away from the ideologues and grass roots militants. The party ends up a “vote-catching machine” and policies are designed to gain votes rather than pursue a coherent social or economic goal.

The internal structure of political parties leads to a dimming of radicalism. This is Robert Michels' “iron law of oligarchy” which he developed from studying the Social Democratic Party of Germany early in the 20th Century. Parties are based around representation, not delegation. Thus, one elects party officials for a set term and it becomes difficult to dislodge them. The party leadership is a hierarchy and the longer one is a member of that group, the more one has the time to develop a loyal band of supporters. Parties typically use simple majority democracy and it is thus easy to stack meetings with one's supporters. Once established, a party hierarchy can control credentialing (who is acceptable as party reps or MPs) and the party media. The party hierarchy can send in organizers to take undermine and takeover recalcitrant party branches. Since party radicals are also the party ultra-democrats, their isolation or purging means there is even less restraining the authoritarianism of the party hierarchy. Bureaucracy tends to grow and the party develops a whole stratum of paid staffers, who quite naturally know who pays their wages.

The “iron law” does not work in every organization. Anarcho-syndicalist unions have largely avoided it. They have done this through radically decentralizing power to the branches, by a bare minimum of paid officials, recallable delegates rather than representatives, and term limits for elected officials. Any member and any branch can propose modifications to union policies and these are voted on by the membership on an annual basis. Delegates to convention are selected by the branches and the number of delegates per branch is dependent upon the number of branch members.

The Green Parties in their original form adopted some of these anarchist concepts and added the modified consensus democracy which grew out of the direct action environmental movements. Radical democracy was soon found in some ways to be incompatible with being a parliamentary party. (says a lot about parliamentary democracy) The Greens, while still keeping a much higher level of internal democracy than other parties, modified and became more like regular parties. As they gained in votes and MPs, the pressure has been ever greater in that direction.

 

WILL HORGAN'S RE-ELECTION BE A PYRRHIC VICTORY?


According to the polls John Horgan's BC NDP will experience a crushing victory over its opponents. This victory may, in the end, prove a disaster for that party. As the climate crisis becomes ever more evident, ever more people will become angry at the failure to take serious measures against it. An ever-growing number will be frustrated by four more years of ignoring the most important problem of all as the time clock ticks down. Keep in mind that the Covid crisis has pushed the climate crisis to the back burner for many. Once the Covid crisis is behind us, the climate crisis will once more be important to these people. There can only be negative repercussions for the NDP. This situation will be exacerbated as direct action movements against the climate crisis grow in number and intensity and are repressed by the NDP government. (think Clayoquot 1992.) If, by some miracle, the Horganite-right wing is replaced by a pro-environment left, it will be an up-hill battle winning the trust of the population again, since the Horganites initially opposed Site C, LNG and log exports.


Of course, the NDP could reverse course and get serious about the climate crisis – shut down Site C and LNG as untenable. But I will not hold my breath in anticipation..

 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

 

WHY ARE WOMEN SMARTER THAN MEN?
Polls in Canada – and usually elsewhere - show a significant gender gap when it comes to politics. The latest 338. poll sees the Conservatives getting only 24% of women's vote, but 33% of men's. The NDP gets 17% male support, 24% female. According to MacLeans June 2020, men supported the Greens at 6.2% and women at 7.9%. Thus, women are 37% less likely to vote right wing, 30 % more likely to vote NDP and 22% more likely to vote Green than their male counterparts. This indicates that women are considerably more intelligent than males, by an average of 30% according to the polls. This is a significant difference and if you don't think so consider your reaction to having your income cut by that amount. It would hurt, right?

Now it may seem brutally unjust to claim that men are less intelligent than women because they have a greater propensity to vote for the right than the centre or left. Let us first examine stupidity. Key elements of stupidity are an inability to consider the future, treating all phenomena as if they existed in isolation, a rejection of science, (evidence-based observations), and responding to difficulties with belligerence. Put simply, you cannot make a rational, evidence based case for most right-wing policies.

These aspects of stupidity are either rejected or are manifested in the different political parties. The Liberals, NDP and Greens all claim to be concerned with the climate crisis, i.e. concerned with the long term. (Whether they do anything about it is another issue.) Both the NDP and Greens tend toward an antiwar stance. Both the Greens and the NDP understand that social problems cannot be treated in isolation, nor can they be fixed with repression. Empirical evidence shows that neoliberal austerity does not work to make a better society, indeed makes matters worse. Greens, NDP and Liberals reject austerity. No matter their obvious failings, no matter their hypocrisy, no matter their betrayals, intellectually at least, these parties take a more rational stance on issues than the right wing. Women are more likely than men to support parties which are rational about key issues.

This is not to say that women cannot be attracted by right-wing forces if certain historically justified fears are manipulated. (The re-establishment of misogynist practices being the most important of these fears.) In France there is no gender gap in the support for the Front National. The leaders of this party have been able to whip up fears of Islamic extremism and the sharia law, which seems to have scared a significant number of women. No doubt some of Trump's massive white female support (now largely lost) came from his anti-Muslim fear-mongering in the 2016 campaign. Other than these examples, however, a political gender gap persists in most countries with women tending to prefer the progressive side over the reactionary.

What are the roots of this male stupidity that propels so many of them toward the self-defeating policies of right wing parties? One posibility lies in a false concept of masculinity that effects a large enough proportion of the male population to make a major political impact. For lack of a better term, I call this “Mannism”. For the Mannist anything classifiable somehow as “feminine” is second rate, weak, cowardly, irrational, and overly-emotional. Also classified as feminine are empathy, a consensual rather than a competitive attitude, a desire for peace and an abiding interest in “intellectual” and cultural pursuits.

Social and environmental activists are seen to embody these “feminine” traits and this explains the rage that many males feel toward such movements. Neoliberalism is seen as correct, not because of empirical evidence, but simply because it rejects empathy, and is not an ideology of goody-goody wimps pandering to societies inferior members. The Mannist also uses an irrational form of reason – one that looks at the world with intellectual abstractions and formulas and avoids or denies the empirical. Hence, the persistent belief, contrary to evidence, that “free trade” and privatization work, simply because they function well in theory. So too, climate crisis foot dragging policies, and the continued ignoring or repression of social problems, no matter what the scientific evidence to the contrary. Anything that gets in the way of “natural competition” is to be avoided and should be encouraged to enable “the best” to climb to the top. An authoritarian hierarchy is “natural” and therefore desirable. That science shows the limits of competition as a factor of social development and that authoritarian hierarchies are of comparatively recent origins among humans is ignored.

Mannism lies at the base of much of what is considered masculinity in much of Europe and North America. It is seen by many as “What it means to be a man” and thus puts the Mannist True Believer into conflict with any progressive movement. Women, on the other hand, while not innately so, are at least allowed by the social system to show empathy and to be cooperative and non-violent. Indeed, these traits are expected of them.

Part of the struggle to create a better world must be to encourage men to be intelligent. This means the need to redefine what masculinity means in the contemporary world, if not ultimately eliminate such restricting self-definitions.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

 

SOME THOUGHTS ON REVOLUTION Part One - DO WE NEED A REVOLUTION?
Nothing would please me more than if peaceful, constitutional means could be found to overcome the number one problem of our time – the climate crisis. What joy it would bring to me if the self-styled progressive parties would tackle the crisis with the same seriousness the way WW2 or the present Covid 19 crisis were dealt with. (As so many activists have pointed out) This is not the case, nor is there any hope that they will get serious. All the major parties talk, but do not walk. We can speculate why this is - they are tied to the fossil fuel industry, to the developers, speculators, the construction companies. They may be afraid of retaliation by the Chinese Government if we are not haulers of wood and water for them. The NDP is tied to the resource-based business unions and local developers who stand to gain from the status quo. Whatever, barring a miracle, there is no hope from this quarter.
What about the Green Party?, you ask. It says the right things but it is tiny. There is a real political disconnect with the populace. Overwhelmingly, people are worried about the climate crisis, but these same people vote for the talkers who are not doers. For many, the climate crisis is further down the road than issues like unemployment or healthcare. Thus, they vote for the big parties who can actually do something about these immediate concerns.
 
If parliamentary means are closed off, change must occur from outside the system. When significant change is induced from outside the “regular channels” it is called a revolution. This seems to be our only option.
 
But revolutions are not made by small groups of activists, they occur “spontaneously.” I put quotes around the word because in the decades prior to a popular rising, there are many smaller actions, and many groups and individuals promoting or engaging in new ideas and practices. The revolution arises as a single salt crystal placed in a supersaturated solution makes the whole solution crystallize.
Without the correct set of conditions there can be no revolution. These conditions are the complete failure of the established system to deal with serious problems stemming from that system and the will of a significant section of the population to act. Furthermore, this action must be a clear break with the old system and involves the creation of new political and economic structures. As few as 10% of the population acting – providing the majority are not hostile – can make revolutionary change.
 
Here is the problem. If people cannot bring themselves to vote for candidates who are serious about the climate crisis, how in the world can you expect them to “take to the streets” by the millions? A partial answer is that political parties divide people and mass movements unite. People may be divided between Liberals, NDP, and Greens party-wise, but the pre-Covid pipeline struggles brought together embarrassed Liberals, NDPs, Greens, anarchists, Communists and the non-aligned. Revolutions do the same.
 
Nevertheless, it is hard to see millions in the streets. A revolution seems like a distant dream. Across this land there may be a few hundred thousand people willing to act. This is certainly better than the past, but we need ten times that number or more. The problem of climate change is that it is like the story of the frog in the pot of water that is gradually being heated. Many people are concerned, but the water is still not unbearably hot. They will act when they have no choice, when adjustments are no longer possible, when it is without too much exaggeration, “do or die.” Historically this has been the case, with many revolutions, the problems engendered by the old regime become unbearable and a breaking point is reached.
 
This is the most pessimistic scenario, but there are always those “black swan” incidents. An event like the Arab Spring may trigger a rising before we reach the point of no return climate-wise. This is always possible. All revolutions seemingly come out of nowhere, and it is only in retrospect do people interpret the causes. Thus, one must never give up hope, even if chances are slim.
 
Either way, change will probably come too late. The clock is ticking, we have only a few years to act, every year that goes by without dealing with emissions, is another year frittered away. Revolution is needed for going into survival mode, even if we cannot create the ecologically sane alternative we wish.
If we cannot trust the rulers with doing something about the climate crisis, how can we trust them to create a situation where a significant portion of humanity can survive when the disaster really strikes? They do not care about us, other than as bodies and minds to exploit, and certainly won't care about us in our grim future. Their concern will be about saving their own skins and continuing to dominate and exploit what is left of the world's population. They have to go. (No, I am not saying we should exterminate them, though they deserve it, but give them an island some place where they can bully each other and leave the rest of us in peace.)
 
Even if it is too late to “save civilization”, the revolution will be necessary. It will be necessary as a means to maximize the survival rate and maintain the culture and knowledge that has accrued over the centuries. It will be necessary to deal with the fascists and regular criminals who will attempt to take advantage of the chaos. It will be necessary to eliminate the dominator-system that has brought us to this calamity and prevent it from ever re-establishing its cancer-like existence over humanity and the natural world. 
 
End of Part One
Part Two – What Might a Contemporary Revolution Look Like?
and Part Three – What Is A Revolutionary? Coming later...

 

REVOLUTION TODAY - Some Thoughts On Revolution Part 2
Revolutions are not made by ideas or revolutionaries. They are made by material conditions. However, when ideas are taken up by a significant section of the populace and converted into action they become a material force. This is what quietly occurs in the years prior to a “spontaneous” rising - ideas and actions are tried out and become part of the consciousness of the most advanced sector. 
 
We see this occuring in the last 20 years; the militant environmental struggles, the post-Seattle anti-corporate globalization movement, the black blocs, the Arab Spring, Occupy, Idle No More, Black Lives Matter, the Indignados, les Gilets Jaunes, the Wet'su'weten struggle, Antifa, Extinction Rebellion and the pre-covid insurrections in Hong Kong, Chile and Lebanon. The awareness of these struggles globalizes with instant communications and people learn from each other, see what works and does not, and these ideas sink into the consciousness.
 
But what are we trying to do? How can we really effect change in a dominator system? For that we must have a clear picture of what we are up against. The form that the dominator system takes in our era is capitalism, in both its corporate and statist aspects, which in the last 40 years take on multinational forms. The heart and soul of capitalism is perpetual capital growth. A low or negative profit rate is a problem for the system and if this should occur for any length of time, the system goes into crisis. The card up the sleeve for revolutionary change lies in that fact.
 
If a mass of people can significantly effect capital's growth rate, or devalue its fixed capital, (machinery, buildings, etc.) it can force the ruling class to reform, if not open a breach within the system that would eventually allow us to liberate the economy and society in general from domination. Ruling classes are typically divided, one group favours reform (give a little and not risk losing everything) and another favors repression and fascism. The idea is to split the ruling class, unite the people and thus create an opening for significant political and economic change.
 
Before the neoliberal destruction of the industrial working class (in Europe and North America that is) a significant force for change lay with action in the factories. It was soon discovered that merely going on strike was not enough, workers could be beaten or gunned down. Thus came the factory occupations of the 1930s. While a worker's life wasn't worth a cent to the cappies, their plants and machinery were of immense value. Sending in thugs to dislodge the workers could result in severe damage to their fixed capital. The moderate faction of the rulers gave in. The unions were recognized and many reforms enacted, reforms that gave rise to the so-called middle class living standard for industrial workers in the period 1950-1980.
 
The loss of industry has weakened plant occupation a great deal. This can no longer be the complete focus for revolutionary action, though ports, airports, rail and trucking, if shut down would have a major impact. The focus must now shift to the city, and part of this has to do with the change in direction that capitalism took with neoliberalism.
 
Due to the lower rate of profit in industry, capital has flowed in no small measure to real estate speculation. An enormous amount of capital is tied up in city property. Add to this corporate businesses located in the cities, such as banks, multinational corporate shops and restaurants, etc. If a significant number of people were to occupy the down towns of major cities, they would simultaneously threaten the profit margins and hold all that real estate wealth hostage. The goal would be to shut down business as usual and the shutting of the ports, rail and trucking would be part of this.
 
Note the phrase “significant number”. The police can drive away and arrest a few thousand people and the action becomes only symbolic, a few broken windows, some garbage cans on fire. Hundreds of thousands of people is another story. You simply do not want to piss off 400,000 people in the down town core. If the movement has erupted in all major cities, even the army could not contain the revolt. The movement does not need to engage in violence or property destruction. Just being there, occupying, makes the profit rate slide. However, the movement cannot be counted to maintain its good nature if attacked. This puts the dominators in a quandary. If they repress, they stand to lose billions in property damage. If they don't repress, their business remains at a standstill.
 
The movement ought not to engage in “positional warfare”. This was the mistake of Occupy. Defend a territory for an indefinite time period and people get tired and drift away. The climate also may be your enemy for long term occupation. Be non-violent guerrillas. It is better to shut things down for a couple of days, go home, rest up then do it again, until you win the changes you seek.
 
The movement will most likely form direct-democratic assemblies to self-govern. These can choose recallable delegates for any negotiations. Modified consensus or super-majorities should be used to prevent hostile takeovers by the political sects, who are the bane of any mass movement. Such assemblies and delegation are also a prefigurative political formation and point the way to a possible replacement of our “elective dictatorship” with genuine democracy.
 
Movements are rarely “just political” and this one will certainly be no different. In the same way that we have a recent history of social movements which are in some manner prefigurative, we also have a prefigurative economy. This consists of the cooperatives, worker coops, land trusts, cohousings, mutual aid associations, not to mention urban farming, alotments, local production, farmers markets and the “simple living” and food security movements. There in embryo we have a cooperative economy, which could in time replace our present authoritarian corporate and statist systems. Also, as more and more people opt for localism, cooperation and reject consumerism, this too effects the corporate profit margins. The idea of the alternative economy is to “starve the cancer.”
 
You have probably noticed by now that I do not refer to an instantaneous and universal overturning of the system. I feel that such ideas as exemplified by the storming of the Winter Palace are obsolete. Revolutions are much more drawn out PROCESSES, not THINGS that can be imposed. Thus a significant reform, brought about through revolutionary action, is itself, revolutionary. Example - everyone serious about the climate crisis seeks to radically cut back on emissions, stop the plundering of the biosphere and end the cult of growth. Such demands, if enacted, would not abolish capitalism, but would end up severely restricting it. Like a cancer, without eternal growth it dies, or at most encysts and becomes managable. The economy could gradually evolve into cooperation and capitalism would fade away as did the feudal remnants within the capitalist state.
 
Ah, yes, the big problem, getting that mass, that minimum 10% of the population that will act, and that majority, who at worst, show benign indifference. Polls show that the majority would like to see serious action about the climate crisis and other pressing problems, even though the vast majority of them vote for foot-dragging parties like the Liberals and NDP. I suspect that as conditions worsen, and the rulers continue to drag their feet, an increasing number of people will be ready to take action and that this will grow exponentially as we get ever closer to complete environmental collapse. If this does not happen, we are hooped. What else can I say? End of Part 2

 

Part Three - BEING A REVOLUTIONARY
A revolutionary is not a self-righteous moralist, a dogmatist or a hair-splitter. Nor is a revolutionary someone who always spouts ultra-militant or violent rhetoric. What then, is a revolutionary?
First and foremost, a revolutionary is a materialist. By this I mean philosophical materialism - basing one's decisions on an examination of the real, empirically existing world, rather than attempting to force fit that world into the confines of some set of ideas like a dogma or ideology. If the real world conflicts with the dogma, out goes the dogma and in comes a new set of ideas that conform more closely with reality. [I know that some of you may object to the term, materialism, we could also call it “realism” except this would create confusion with the 18th Century Scottish Realist Philosophers, with which it bears little resemblance.]
 
We see the application of a materialist analysis with both Marx and Lenin. Marx did not talk much about the political organization of the future society, but along came the Paris Commune and he saw that this was the method and adopted it. Lenin realized that introducing a broad-based open social democratic party was impossible in a totalitarian state like Tsarist Russia, and borrowing from the earlier Narodniks, came up with the vanguard party concept. It does not matter that Marx was an opportunist and the Paris Commune was largely the work of Proudhonist anarchists or that Lenin's vanguard party had a serious downside, the point is, they took account of material reality.
When the Magon brothers first attempted to overthrow the Diaz regime in Mexico, they did so under the guise of the Liberal Party of Mexico. Liberalism was about as radical as was allowed under that brutal dictatorship. Moralists and ideologues would have overtly declared themselves anarchist communists – and found themselves dead within a week. The Magons took account of the material conditions. They were also cognizant of the other philosophical aspect that true revolutionaries possess – an awareness of the dialectic of struggle.
 
Just to speed up the process, they inserted a clause within the program of the Liberal Party that would help transform the movement in the direction of anarchist communism. Among the regular list of democratic and human rights they included land to the peasants. The Magons knew it did not matter if their movement started out moderate, the struggle against the regime would radicalize the movement, transitioning it from liberal to anarchist. When conditions changed some years later with the revolution in full swing, the Liberal Party program was changed to include anarchist communism.
 
Why do you think that Marx practically jumped up and down with joy when the 10 Hours Bill was passed or Rosa Luxemberg wrote glowingly of mass strikes? Because they understood the dialectic of struggle. The 10 Hours Bill marked the first time the working class had imposed itself politically on the capitalists and Marx realized it represented the beginning of a long process of political class struggle. Luxemberg saw the mass strikes as a prelude to revolutionary change. Pseudo-revolutionaries see a “moderate” mass movement and sneer because it does not measure up to their ideals. They do not understand such movements soon radicalize in the conflict with the authorities. It also shows a contempt for the people, as though they would be fooled by the moderates and would not be intelligent enough to realize the limitations of a movement.
 
It is important to know the difference between the People and the enemies of the struggle. It should be obvious that white supremacists, anti-Semites, Nazis, misogynists, climate-crisis deniers and those who promote all variety of hateful conspiracy theories are beyond the pale. While the People clearly reject such reactionary views, we also cannot expect them to be saints. If we wait for the mantle of sainthood to descend upon the masses we will wait an eternity. Essentially, we must take the People as they are, contradictions and all, at the same time encouraging education and through the process of the struggle overcoming any residual prejudice and ignorance they might have. This is the difference between the materialist and the moralist, the revolutionary and the pseudo-revolutionary.
 
The true revolutionary is an opportunist par excellence. Not in the pejorative sense, a synonym for sell-out, but taking advantage of any given situation, jumping on it and using it to further the struggle. Dogmas, ideologies, puritanical moralizing – into the garbage heap with them! The motto should be the revolution first and foremost. Within reason, everything must be sacrificed for that end. In a limited sense, the “ends do justify the means” This does not mean discarding the ethical core from which stems the revolutionary impulse – a revolution based upon planned atrocities will become a new tyranny - but simply ignoring the dogmas and posturings that get in the way of making effective social change.
A true revolutionary understands their limitations – they are sparks, not the bonfire. The masses in motion make the revolution, not the individual, not the revolutionary organization. The task of the revolutionary is to bring together as broad a coalition of the oppressed as possible based on key transformative issues. 
 
Sometimes these transformative issues can be reduced to slogans -”Land and Liberty”, “Peace, Land and Bread”, “Land to the tiller, the workshop to the workers”. They are all “common sense” to the people and point in the direction of revolutionary change. If acted upon, they ARE the revolution.
Groups who try to force-fit the workers into some narrow purist program, may think they are revolutionary, but they are irrelevant poseurs. At the same time such groups suffer from programatic diarrhea – every aspect of existence must be covered with their shit. It is better to focus on key issues and save the rest for the mission statement. By narrowly defining everything, they cannot help but create division, whereas a focused program, based upon the fundamental needs of the populace, brings unity.
 
The transformative issues change with time and with the situation. What might seem revolutionary in the past may seem moderate today, and what now appears moderate may in fact, be revolutionary. It all depends upon the stage of capitalist development. The revolutionary must understand the epoch in which she lives. Applying yesterdays concepts to today's situation, is a good recipe for failure. An example of what I mean - during capital's heady post-war prosperity, the system could allow significant social reforms. Capitalism in crisis cannot do this – it will fight to the bitter end to prevent reform, hence today the process of seeking reform can create a revolutionary situation.
 
An example? The greatest challenge we face today is the climate crisis. Any genuine attempt to combat the crisis means imposing limits on capitalism. Since capitalism requires eternal growth or it goes into crisis, this means the super-cession of capitalism. Thus reformist demands for a “steady state economy”, “degrowth” or “Green New Deals”, are revolutionary, if sincerely acted upon.
 
There is the question of violence. Some militants talk about the need for violence and what enemies of the struggle the promoters of non-violence are. “One size fits all” is the problem here. Once again, the nature of the struggle depends upon material conditions. The Magon's rhetoric, once the Mexican people rose up in arms, that is, was to encourage revolutionary violence. Malatesta, who had actually taken part in insurrections and maintained the need for such all his life, did not off-handly dismiss those who disagreed with insurrection. They were part of the movement too. Marx and Engels were moderate in speech, befitting the tolerant and non-revolutionary situation in England. During the Revolution of 1848, however, they were on the barricades.
 
The revolutionary seeks the least violent social change possible, if not from ethics, from practicality. Who wants to inherit mountains of corpses and smouldering ruins? The October Revolution had ONE fatality – it was the following civil war that was bloody, not the revolution. Workers do not need to be told to be violent – they know what violence is, having experienced it practically from birth. And if violence is needed, they will be far more effective at it, than many a self-styled revolutionary.
Like it or not there is a “vanguard” - some people are just more experienced, better educated (formally and informally) than others. The mistake has been to turn this vanguard into bosses of the movement, rather than just exemplary figures and resource people. “True leadership is obedience”, say the Zapatistas and I concur. It is not up to us to tell the people what to do.
 
 Need I point out those “key transformative issues” I wrote about earlier, do not spring from the heads of the revolutionary minority, but are a distillation of the popular consciousness. They are there already. Peasants always want their land back from the “noble” robbers. Most workers think most managers are incompetent boobs and they could do better without them. Millions of people are deeply concerned about the climate crisis. Most First Nations people are concerned about the crimes perpetuated upon them which continue with the pipeline imposition and millions of non-First Nations people support them. And so on.
 
See, it exists already. In a sense the revolution is now, because it is encapsulated in those material, ie, really existing, key issues. The revolution, in the sense of transformation of the system, is merely the generalization of those issues. The true task of revolutionaries is foster that generalization.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

 

Populism


Much has been written of late about “right-wing populism.” Sorry, but there is no such animal. Populism, genuine populism, is the agrarian socialism with a dash of anarchism, that flourished in Russia and North America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and in Latin America from the 1930s to the present. It is anything but backward looking, opposed to science or in favour of irrationalism. 1. The Russian populists practically worshiped science and many were imprisoned or killed trying to educate the populace. For the Americas, both North and South, education stood at the forefront of all populist movements.


Right-wing populism” is little more than neo-fascism, an appeal to the basest instincts of a dumbed-down and lumpenized sector. For such “populism” the elite consists not of billionaires, but anyone who reads books, even if that person lives below the poverty line. For authentic populism, the elite is the ruling class of industrialists, financiers, big landowners, and the political, academic, governmental and corporate managerial class who work for them. The “people” are the great mass dominated, and thus exploited, by this elite; the farmers, artisans, workers, professionals and small traders. Right-wing populism is a sign of decadence, true populism sees the masses educating themselves, lifting themselves up from their degraded situation by their own efforts and building a “culture of resistance”, not those who wallow in servility to their masters.


Unlike “Orthodox Marxism”, which zeroed-in on the working class as the revolutionary subject, let alone the vulgar Marxists, who stupidly reduced that class to manual workers alone, populism saw the revolutionary potential in all the exploited. They were proven correct by the great revolutions of the Twentieth Century; Mexico, Russia, China and Cuba - all peasant-based. Enough of that, let us examine the populist movements in some detail.


Russian Populism, The Narodniks and The Socialist Revolutionary Party

The most important influence on the development of Russian populism was Nikolai Chernyshevsky's socialist feminist novel “What Is To Be Done” published in 1863. It became a “best seller” and the Russian youth devoured it like candy. In this novel “Russian young intelligensy found... an appealing solution” to Tsarist Russia's multitude of problems. For Lenin, the novelist stood as “the greatest and most talented representative of socialism before Marx.” 2. The book, as well as a love story, is a paean to scientific rationalism. The rejection of Christian and conventional morality in favor of science and rational self-interest earned the youth who followed these precepts the name “Nihilists” - as though the rejection of convention was a rejection of ethics in general. On the contrary, no generation of youth was more self-sacrificing and torn by moral conflict than these “Nihilists.”.


The movement must be put into historical context. Tsarist Russia was the “prototype of the modern police state.” 3. and was infamous for its cruelty and oppressiveness. Populist youth were hanged for teaching peasants to read and for having “illegal” printing presses. There was even secret police persecution for giving medical treatment to peasants. 4.


Around a million people were deported to Siberia in the 19th Century, many used as forced labor in the mines. Like Stalin's gulags – undoubtedly modeled on the Tsarist system – the death rate of prisoners was very high. One example was the Barguzin camp , “By spring of each year one quarter to one third had died of tuberculosis, typhoid fever, malnutrition, or failed attempts to escape.” 5.


Influences on Chernyshevsky included the Proudhon-influenced socialist Alexandre Herzen, Louis Blanc's and Robert Owen's, cooperatives and Fourier's utopian socialism. His feminism came from reading George Sand, 6. A big influence philosophically was the materialism of Feuerbach. 7. Like both Herzen and Bakunin, Chernyshevsky saw the peasant commune [the Mir] as a basis for socialism. Russia would not have to go through the brutal transition to capitalism. 8. [ Marx was of a similar opinion see page ] Bakunin's influence ought not to be underestimated, as at this time he was the major figure among Russian revolutionaries.


Peter Lavrov, helped create the Zemyla i volya (Land and Freedom Party) in which a later split-off became the Narodnaya Volya, or People's Will, [hence “Narodniks”] in the 1870s. He was influenced by Proudhon, Fourier, Chernyshevsky and Herzen. Lavrov was also one of Marx and Engels closer friends, and while sympathetic to them in many ways, maintained his intellectual and political independence. 9.

Nikolai Mikhailovsky spanned the era from the Narodniks to the formation of the Socialist Revolutionary Party (SR's) in 1901 and was thus regarded as “the grand old man of Populist socialism.“ He was “strongly drawn to Proudhon” and learned his feminism from reading John Stuart Mill. Mikhailovsky, while philosophically a materialist, rejected Positivism and Social Darwinism. While respectful of Marxism, like Lavrov, he maintained his independence as a thinker. 10. [The SR and the later Left SR continued the earlier Narodnik agrarian socialism, best encapsulated in the slogan “land and freedom.”]


The feminist strain within Russian Populism meant that many of its important leaders were women. There was Vera Zazulich, a leader of Zemlya i Volya, friend of Marx and Engels, and later, editor of Iskra. Vera Figner, a leader of Narodnaya Volya (armed struggle group of the Narodnik movement) spent twenty years in solitary confinement for her activities. Katarina Breshkovsky, member of Narodnaya Volya, founder of the Socialist Revolutionary Party and leader of the SR Battle Group (armed struggle organization) She was commonly known as “Babushka ” (Grandmother of the Revolution) There was Maria Spiradanova, member of the SR Battle Group, founder and leader of the Left Socialist Revolutionary Party, member of the Petrograd Soviet, President of the First Congress of Peasants' Soviets and part of the coalition that toppled the Provisional Government in October 1917.


The loss of these brilliant, capable and above all revolutionary women in leadership positions due to lengthy prison sentences and Siberian exile had a negative effect on the development of the Socialist Revolutionary Party. Compromising male politicians took over from the revolutionaries after the failed 1905 Revolution. They foolishly supported the First World War, then gave rise to the dithering, incompetent (and stupidly pro-War) Provisional Government, which the Bolsheviks and Left SR bloodlessly overthrew in October 1917.


North American Populism

Populism in North America did not fall from the sky, but was “the culmination of a united development beginning with Grangerism and Greenbackism in the early 1870s.” 11. [The Grange was an early farmer's organization and the Greenback Party sought to change the monetary system to one that benefited the populace and not just the bankers and industrialists.] In Canada populism was also rooted in the Grange and another farmer organization, The Patrons of Industry. 12. The ground had been well seeded beforehand, first by radical Abolitionists and early socialists like the Proudhon and Fourier influenced Horace Greely, Arthur Brisbane and Charles A. Dana. These three men spread their ideas through their newspaper, The New York Tribune. The Tribune was the first mass circulation and national newspaper in the USA. [ It's European correspondent was Karl Marx]


The first North American populist party was the Greenback Party, organized in 1872, uniting farmers and labour. Their plan was for the government to issue low interest loans to the public to create worker cooperatives and get the farmers out of the clutches of the usurious banks. “Greenbackism was a direct attack on the banks and private ownership.” 13.


The populists of the 1890s also read Henry George's “Progress and Poverty” in which he, unaware of Marx's Capital, showed how capital was essentially labour. George made clear that land and natural resources were given by nature, and thus should not be monopolized by a minority, but shared by all. He proposed as a first step, that land alone should be taxed as a way for the general public to get a share of what ought to have been held in common. [Hence the “Single Tax” - which became a movement after the demise of the People's Party. Henry George's influence also extended to the formation of land trusts and land trust based intentional communities.]


Populism in North America was a class movement that united farmers and workers in the face of an industrialization process that was grinding them down. It was not backward looking, and favored new technology. They were simply opposed to capitalism, desiring an economic democracy based upon cooperatives and mutual aid. “Very often a fine line separated Populism from Socialism.” 14.


In Canada the “cooperatives were a virtually a metaphor for a type of democratic public organization.” 15. Radical democracy in the form of decentralization and delegation was important to most Canadian Populists. Guild Socialism [an amalgam of democratic socialism and anarcho-syndicalism] was also an important influence. 16.


By the 1880s farmers in the US had come together in the Farmer's Alliance. They had a well developed cooperative system. 17. and these coops were the “central organizing and educational tool.” 18. By the 1890s there were about 1000 Populist newspapers being published and educating the populous. 19. Some 250,000 African American farmers formed the Black Farmers Alliance. 20. The People's Party of 1892 was a coalition of the Farmer's Alliance with the proto-syndicalist Knights of Labor. (KOL) “Wealth belongs to him that creates it” was their slogan. [The KOL's economic alternative to capitalism was a system of worker cooperatives.] 21.


Terrorism and lynching were used against the Populists, especially in Georgia and Louisiana. 22. Jim Crow was in no small way used to prevent a multi-racial populist farmer movement in the South. Along with terror and the hate propaganda in the MSM of the day, the capitalist businesses worked to destroy the cooperative movement. They came down hard on the Knights of Labor coops as well as farmer cooperative efforts. Railroads boycotted their production, manufacturers would not sell them machinery or spare parts and they were refused raw materials and capital. The loss of the cooperatives was a death sentence for the KOL, 23. and a “ a decisive blow” against the People's Party. 24.

Farmer-Labor cooperation which looked so promising with the Greenback Party, the People's Party and the Knights of Labor, never fully materialized. With the destruction of the Knights, the American Federation of Labor became the major force of organized workers. The Samuel Gompers-dominated AFL opposed the farmers for being too radical. This “guaranteed [Populism's] ultimate downfall.” 25. Many Populists went over to the Socialist Party – which helps explain that organization's strength in the agricultural states. Others formed Non-Partisan leagues in their regions and fought for progressive social reform. Some became progressive minorities within the Democrat and Republican Parties and in the South some White Populists drifted to the right as Jim Crow advocates and KKK.


In Canada, the Populists who did not return to the fold of the old line parties, helped form the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) along with Socialists in 1932. In little more than a decade, the social democrats took over the CCF and the Socialists and Populists became a beleaguered and frustrated minority within that party.


Latin American Populism

Populism in Latin America has Indigenous roots and undoubtedly some anarchist influences, since anarcho-syndicalism played a prominent role there for the first three decades of the 20th Century. This form of populism differs from the Russian and North American varieties in its strong anti-imperialism. Those who saw the need for an Indigenous- based revolutionary politics included the Peruvians, Gonzales Prada, (an anarchist) Jose Carlos Mariategui, a libertarian Marxist, Haya de la Torre, the chief ideologue of Latin American Populism, and the Bolivian anarchist, Luis Cusicanqui. The Mexican Revolution was an inspiration to all, both for its land reform and opposition to US interference.


Most Populists were influenced by Marxism, but found it lacking in a theory of development suitable to their situation of imperial dominance. Hence, they created their own theory. These movements were mainly influenced by Haya de la Torre, and were oriented to an Indigenous conception, were anti-imperialist, pro-labor, democratic, revolutionary , federalist, and decentralist, with a cooperative form of economy. 26.


Haya de la Torre attempted to create a populist international, which did not come to much, but did influence revolutionary movements throughout the continent. 27. He formed a revolutionary party, APRA, which gained some traction in his native Peru. The movement was brutally repressed with execution of militants and massacres of supporters. The worst of these occurred in 1932 in the city of Trujillo, where 6000 people were gunned down by the military. 28. Populism came to the fore in the 1930s and 40s, interestingly enough the same period in which anarcho-syndicalism went into steep decline.


In the 1940s and early 1950s there were a series of populist governments and revolutions. Costa Rica rose in 1948, which gave rise to major social reforms and Bolivia in 1952, nationalizing the tin mines and extensive land reform. The populists in Guatemala were overthrown in a US sponsored military coup. The Accion Democratica party toppled the Venezuelan dictator in 1946, and a year later was repressed in a right-wing coup. Finally, in 1958, the populists tossed out the dictator Jimenez. Once in power, they nationalized the petroleum industry. [One must not underestimate the level of violence and repression that the populist movements endured. Many thousands died.]


Fidel Castro and Che Guevara both started their political lives as populists, the former in the Orthodoxo Party, the latter as a left-wing Peronist, so the Cuba Revolution can be seen as a continuation of this historical tendency. Over time, these parties either became corrupt or evolved into social democracy. In the case of Cuba, the influence of Moscow-style Marxist-Leninism soon overshadowed – never completely – the revolution's populist roots.


In the 1980s the revolutionary movements in Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador, while speaking a Marxist Leninist language, were highly populist in their programs and actions. Populism, in varying degrees resurfaced as part of the 'pink wave' in the early 21st Century with the movements and governments of Evo Morales, Hugo Chavez, Nestor Kirshner , Christina Fernandez and Lula.


The strong leader figure seems to be a particular aspect of Latin American populism, unlike its counterparts in Russia and North America. This has led caudillos such as Brazil's Vargas, Juan Peron and the Peruvian military of the 1960s, to adopt elements of the populist program in an attempt to build a support base. The existence of such caudillos as well as genuine populist strong leaders has tended to obscure the reality of Latin American Populism as an otherwise essentially democratic movement.


While making many substantial reforms and engendering economic development, Latin American Populism has never been able to create the independent, cooperative, egalitarian society that it envisioned. US imperialism and the oligarchs that support it, have proven too powerful. Even those hard-won reforms and economic advances have been rolled back by right-wing coups and IMF and World Bank 'moneterrorism'.


  1. p. 4, p. 8, Norman Pollack, The Populist Response to Industrial America, Harvard, 1962

  2. pps 31, 32, Introduction, Nikolai Chernyshevsky, What Is To Be Done, Cornell, 1989. Also of interest is that the first English language translation and publication was by the American anarchist, Benjamin Tucker, p. 35, ibid.

  3. p. 32, Margaret Maxwell, Narodniki Women, Pergamon, 1990

  4. p. 26, fn, p. 30, ibid.

  5. p 136 ibid

  6. pps 9-11, 18, Introduction, Nikolai Chernyshevsky, What Is To Be Done, Cornell, 1989.

  7. p. 16, ibid.

  8. p. 19, ibid.

  9. pps 120-121 Russian Philosophy, Vol 2, Quadrangle Books, 1965

  10. pps 170-173, ibid.

  11. p. 8, Norman Pollack, The Populist Response to Industrial America, Harvard, 1962

  12. p. 5, David Laycock, Populism and Democratic Thought In The Canadian Prairies, Univ of Toronto, 1990.

  13. p. 70 John Curl, For All The People, PM Press, 2009

  14. pps 11, 19, 97, Pollack

  15. p. 99, David Laycock, Populism and Democratic Thought In The Canadian Prairies, Univ of Toronto, 1990.

  16. p. 104, ibid.

  17. p. 32, Lawrence Goodwyn, The Populist Moment, Oxford, 1978

  18. p. 66, ibid.

  19. p. 206, ibid.

  20. p. 118, ibid.

  21. p. 106, Curl

  22. p. 190, ibid.

  23. p. 107, ibid.

  24. p. 299, ibid.

  25. pps, 61-64, Pollack

  26. pps 164-165, Victor Alba, Politics and the Labor Movement in Latin America, Stanford, 1968.

  27. p. 163, ibid.

  28. p. 171, ibid.

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