Harold Meyerson writes for The Guardian: It used to be a dirty word. Bernie Sanders helped remove the stigma – but it’s the spectacular failure of capitalism that has really changed people’s minds.
Boston University Professor of History Andrew J. Bacevich writes about what Trumpism means for Democracy.
If Trump secures the Republican nomination, now an increasingly imaginable prospect, the party is likely to implode. Whatever rump organization survives will have forfeited any remaining claim to represent principled conservatism.
None of this will matter to Trump, however. He is no conservative and Trumpism requires no party. Even if some new institutional alternative to conventional liberalism eventually emerges, the two-party system that has long defined the landscape of American politics will be gone for good.
Should Trump or a Trump mini-me ultimately succeed in capturing the presidency, a possibility that can no longer be dismissed out of hand, the effects will be even more profound. In all but name, the United States will cease to be a constitutional republic. Once President Trump inevitably declares that he alone expresses the popular will, Americans will find that they have traded the rule of law for a version of caudillismo. Trump’s Washington could come to resemble Buenos Aires in the days of Juan Perón, with Melania a suitably glamorous stand-in for Evita, and plebiscites suitably glamorous stand-ins for elections.
As my political awakening unfolded a few years ago, I began to read more widely from sources beyond the mainstream of U.S. commentary. What I was reading often made reference to Karl Marx. At some point, I realized that I had never read Marx. The thought had never crossed my mind prior to that moment, but it suddenly seemed very odd that I was able to graduate with honors from a decent public high school and a fine private university without ever reading one of the great philosophers of all time. I’d never even read of him by reference, that I could remember.
Here is all that I knew of Marx from all those years of formal education: “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” and “religion is the opiate of the masses.”
So, I decided to dive right in to Marx’s major work, Das Kapital. It didn’t take long for me to give up in abject frustration. I wrote this to a friend.
I’ve been slogging my way through “Capital.” I’m finding Marx incredibly difficult to follow, and feel like a 5-year-old. Is there some resource out there that will help me make sense of his basic theories? Especially having difficulty with concepts like surplus value, the distinction between use value and exchange value, etc. I’m a serious person who knows how to concentrate and have been told that I’m fairly bright – but I’m not understanding the details at all.
If you are starting your adventures in Marx with “Das Kapital” then my immediate advice would be – STOP!
He recommended beginning with secondary sources and some of Marx’s shorter, earlier, more accessible writings, and I took his advice, abandoning Capital for the time being. In its place I began to read (and listen to) Marxists of our day. Paul D’Amato’s The Meaning of Marxism was particularly helpful, as was much of the material from We Are Many.
After a couple years of studying, I gave Capital a try again, and once again put it down somewhere in the first few chapters. I was convinced that I would never have the fortitude to complete it.
Then in early 2015 DSA ran a series of video conference sessions with Joseph Schwartz that was an introduction to Marx. I found that I was understanding the material fairly well, and the idea came to me to make another run at Capital as a summer reading project. I’d also listened to another talk from We Are Many about the book, and they had mentioned that if you can get through the first few chapters, the rest of it is easier going. I took a deep breath, picked up my Kindle and started again from the beginning.
It took me months of on-again, off-again effort, but I finally finished reading the first volume last evening. Although none of it is especially “easy” to read, I agree that the first few chapters are the most difficult. I also found that there were parts, mainly those featuring formulas, that I just could not decipher. I soldiered on through these, deciding to come back and research those parts further, not allowing the lack of mastery of each concept to impede progress. It was a comfort to know that even those who have read this work dozens of times still find that they gain insight upon each new encounter.
The main things that struck me throughout the experience were both unexpected. First of all, it is uncanny that Marx’s descriptions of how capitalism works explain what we see going on in society today. The exploitation, alienation and oppression that we experience are part and parcel of the capitalist mode of production, and Marx describes it all with incredible precision. For something first published in 1887, the insights and the accuracy of analysis concerning what is happening today is astonishing.
I was also struck by Marx’s wicked sense of humor. There were times when I literally laughed out loud while reading Capital. This was certainly a surprise.
I would not have been able to make sense of this book absent a foundation of knowledge and without some helpful resources. If you’re interested in attempting to read it, I would encourage you to do so. It’s an arduous adventure, but well worth the trouble. Here are some links that may be helpful.
From We Are Many:
How to Read Marx’s Capital (2008) – Larry Bradshaw
Introduction to Marx’s Capital (2010) – Sid Patel
Understanding Marx’s Capital (2014) – Leia Petty
Introduction to Marx’s Capital (2015) – Sid Patel and Daphna Their
Our family was proud to be a part of the March for Bernie on Saturday, February 27th. It was a beautiful day in Chicago, and great to be among comrades. I offered to hold the banner for the Chicago DSA, not realizing that I was volunteering to help carry it along the route as well.
I put a few shots of family and friends in a Flickr album too. The set is in reverse chronological order, starting with our ride home on the Metra.
Also, there’s this short video from the march.
This was our daughter Caroline’s first experience with a political event. She had a lovely time.
On October 20, 1956, W. E. B. DuBois wrote for The Nation on the upcoming Presidential election.
I believe that democracy has so far disappeared in the United States that no “two evils” exist. There is but one evil party with two names, and it will be elected despite all I can do or say.
Is the refusal to vote in this phony election a counsel of despair? No, it is dogged hope. It is hope that if twenty-five million voters refrain from voting in 1956 because of their own accord and not because of a sly wink from Khrushchev, this might make the American people ask how much longer this dumb farce can proceed without even a whimper of protest.
Does any of this sound familiar?
Read the Entire Essay: W.E.B. Dubois, I Won’t Vote
“Stop supporting the lesser evil and start working together for the greater good.”
Here are both parts of the recent conversation between Jill Stein and Chris Hedges. Although the truth they present here can be hard to take, they present a way forward through the gloom. What they suggest may well be our only hope as a species. Please watch with an open mind and heart.
In this first episode of this set from teleSUR’s Days of Revolt, Chris Hedges and Green Party candidate Jill Stein diagnose the problems plaguing US politics, highlighting the dysfunction of a two-party system dominated by corporate interests.
And in part two, they lay out the solutions to issues like economic inequality and climate change, and explain the need for sustained civil disobedience and a unified grassroots movement.
The Chicago DSA’s Talkin’ Socialism podcast was one of the first that I found when I was looking for an education in the matter. These are recorded each month in conjunction with the regular meeting of the chapter, and have covered a wide range of topics from socialist history and theory to current events here in Illinois.
Recently, the program has undergone something of a reboot. Producer Robert Roman has moved the show site to WordPress.com, and the feed has been resubmitted to the iTunes directory.
Highly recommended. Here are some links.
Luke Mogelson reports from the border of ISIS territory, where Iraqi civilians fight for their survival.
When I visited the main junction in the center of town, however, three P.K.K. flags were mounted atop an empty billboard frame in the middle of a traffic circle. The highest one bore a portrait of Abdullah Öcalan, the leader and founder of the P.K.K., who is serving a life sentence in a Turkish prison. A pillar of Öcalan’s ideology is strict gender equality, both in society and on the battlefield, and about half of the P.K.K. fighters posted around the junction were women. Many of them—cigarettes in their mouths, Kalashnikovs on their backs, and grenades fastened to the sashes around their waists—looked no older than sixteen or seventeen. Shortly after we arrived, I heard one young woman yelling furiously. She was standing in the rotary, beneath the flag of Öcalan, facing several peshmerga soldiers.
“You don’t talk to me!” she told them.
A moment later, a swarm of P.K.K. fighters, Yazidi militiamen, and peshmerga troops were shouting at and jostling one another. It seemed to be about the flags. The peshmerga troops appeared to want to raise theirs.
“Stop! Stop! Stop!” someone yelled.
Many of the P.K.K. fighters had unslung their rifles and were holding them at the low ready. Others were propping machine guns on bipods behind vehicles and rubble piles. A man I had just been interviewing was stretched out on his stomach, aiming into the crowd.
“Hold on!” a peshmerga soldier shouted. “Don’t do this!”
“I’m going to raise our flag!” another said. “I want to raise our flag!”
“No, no, come back. Don’t do it.”
“Our home is destroyed, and now we’re going to destroy it again?” one of the Yazidi militiamen asked. “We should be fighting ISIS, not each other!”
Read the Full Report: The Front Lines – The New Yorker
From Ars Technica UK:
In 2014, the former director of both the CIA and NSA proclaimed that “we kill people based on metadata.” Now, a new examination of previously published Snowden documents suggests that many of those people may have been innocent.
Last year, The Intercept published documents detailing the NSA’s SKYNET programme. According to the documents, SKYNET engages in mass surveillance of Pakistan’s mobile phone network, and then uses a machine learning algorithm on the cellular network metadata of 55 million people to try and rate each person’s likelihood of being a terrorist.
Patrick Ball—a data scientist and the director of research at the Human Rights Data Analysis Group—who has previously given expert testimony before war crimes tribunals, described the NSA’s methods as “ridiculously optimistic” and “completely bullshit.” A flaw in how the NSA trains SKYNET’s machine learning algorithm to analyse cellular metadata, Ball told Ars, makes the results scientifically unsound.
Note: This is another short post about my personal political journey thus far, and about some efforts to help build an effective American Left in the 21st Century. Views and characterizations are my own. I do not speak for the organizations mentioned, nor for of any of my comrades. As always, comments are welcome.
I’ve written previously about my political awakening which began in earnest a few years ago. Early on, I recognized the need to work together with others toward fundamental change. One of the things that I did was to join the Wobblies. I remain a faithful dues-paying member of the IWW, and now also carry a National Writers Union card. Union membership is something that I consider to be part of my core identity.
I also began to learn about political organizations on the broader left. There is a dizzying range of them in the United States. There are Social Democrats, and Democratic Socialists, and Feminist Socialists, and Committees of Correspondence, and Spartacists, and Trotskyists, and Marxists and Revolutionary Socialists and Anarcho-Syndicalists, and Christian Anarchists – and many, many others.
I studied lineages and politics and structure and governance and international affiliations and a host of other details about each group. The two organizations of most interest to me were the Democratic Socialists of America and the International Socialist Organization. Both have active Chicago chapters (which was important to me since we were anticipating a move north from Central Illinois to the Chicago Southland), both are relatively large organizations, and both have lineages that can be traced back to the heroes of 20th-century American radicalism.
I joined the DSA in early 2012.
In the four years since, my political education has continued. Two particularly important influences have been Marx’s writings and Rosa Luxemburg’s Reform Or Revolution. The idea that we cannot merely reform our way to a just society is now evident to me. This doesn’t mean that reforms aren’t important, but that we do have to have strategies beyond that. The more I’ve read and learned, the further left my politics have trended.
So I was delighted when a friend in another organization mentioned, in passing, the “left wing of the DSA around Jacobin.” Up until then, I had no idea that an organized “left wing” existed.
I contacted someone I knew at Jacobin, and they put me in touch with someone involved in the DSA Left Caucus. I was welcomed into the caucus in late April of 2015.
Although there is no litmus test nor a point-by-point statement of principles which a member is bound to accept, there seems to be general agreement across the caucus around the following ideas.
- We’d like to see a greater focus on education in theory and history throughout our organization.
- We are socialists, organizing for socialism. We’re not liberals or progressives or social democrats.
- We are committed to solidarity with those who are most oppressed under capitalism including women, people of color, first peoples and LGBTQ people.
- We believe in internationalism, and in showing solidarity with the struggles of oppressed people worldwide, particularly those who are victims of American imperialism.
- We want to help build an independent socialist political movement in the United States while maintaining a flexible and undogmatic approach to elections in the meantime.
- We are committed to building relationships across the American Left, and to pursuing a united front with comrades from other socialist organizations where possible.
- We are committed to solidarity with our rank-and-file union sisters and brothers, and to supporting movements for union democracy.
The DSA is not only the largest explicitly socialist organization in the United States, it is one with a rich intellectual and activist history, and a structure that continues to guard against uncritical acceptance of predominant ideas. The Left Caucus provides auspices for thoughtful discussion and purposeful organization toward a more vibrant and effective DSA, and hence a more vibrant and effective American Left. I’m thankful for the opportunity to be learning and working alongside this group of exceptionally bright and committed activists.