Thursday, November 10, 2016

After the Trumphant: What Next?

Note: We are reprinting below a question we received from Thomas Cain to our post “Vote for Nobody”.

The comment is followed by a response from Frank Brenner.


This post expresses most of my own feelings on bourgeois elections in general, though I admit that I have never bothered to even register to vote. But despite your assertion that there will be a great opportunity for revolutionary socialism, I feel a sort of despair emanating from your piece, or maybe I'm only projecting. Trump's election, contrary to our expectations, raises questions that I can't find the answers to: Should we re-evaluate our assessment of events thus far? Should we have a discussion on Fromm and Reich (not that I'm an expert on either)? And most of all, what should we do now? I know that we're just individuals and that we can't wage the revolution or just wish a party into existence.

Thousands protest in front of Trump headquarters in New York


It's understandable to feel down at this moment. Only sectarian idiots have no doubts. But ask yourself this: would you be just as nonplussed if Clinton had won? And if not, why not? Is there not in this let-down feeling a little hankering for things to go back to being normal? It's a conservative feeling, and one that ought to be resisted. Reality has thrown up something radically new, we need a theory that can be as radical as reality.

Of course Freud and Reich are relevant, but not in a mechanical way. They can help elucidate the attraction of a figure like Trump, the charisma of the authoritarian leader. To liberals Trump seemed a buffoon, as did Hitler back in the day. But to fearful, angry middle class and working class people, he seemed very different, the man who would straighten out the mess in Washington and in the country. His role on reality TV created this image, and Fox News constantly pushed it. Trump's main mentor, besides his father, was Roy Cohn, who taught him the basics of a demagogue: Lie, lie, lie, deny, deny, deny. So Trump's political lineage is from Cohn to McCarthy and thence back to the fascism of the 1930s.

But the analogy to Hitler is a limited one: Trump is - or rather aspires to be - a Bonapartist. This is not yet fascism. The distinction is especially important now, to avoid confusion and even despair. All that's happened is an election. The country is split but the winners haven't been mobilized - yet - into a fascist force and the losers haven't been crushed. The worst thing about throwing up one's hands is that you become a party to your own victimization. Demagogues like Trump depend on that. Here we need to be guided by Marx and Trotsky as well as by Freud, and not allow ourselves to become overly impressed by power. Which isn't to deny there are big dangers in this situation, it's rather to insist that our enemies aren't omnipotent, though they would very much like us to believe they are.

The rise of Trump means the end of the old norms of bourgeois democracy. The 2000 election and the aftermath of 9/11 already foreshadowed this. Obama, as it turns out, was just a passing interlude. The fate of Obama's 'legacy' – which Trump and the Republicans are set to wipe out in their first months in office – is in striking contrast to Roosevelt's New Deal, which survived largely intact for half a century, until Reagan. Along with Clinton's defeat – despite her overwhelming support from the establishment – this shows that liberalism is at a complete impasse. The next time some 'pragmatic' political hack starts talking about 'electability' – who's going to believe her/him? From the standpoint of socialist politics, this is all to the good. And so, by the way, will be the repeal of Obamacare – a ridiculous patchwork made to order for private insurers and big pharma. Trump and his minions can't make the need for medical care go away: they will reap a whirlwind of anger that will stoke a movement for free Medicare for all.

There have already been demonstrations against Trump. This will only grow as he and the Republicans take over and start wreaking havoc. The big question is: who will dominate this movement? Will it be the Democrats, who will inevitably destroy it? Or the anarchists and identity politics crowd, who will inevitably disorient and fragment it? One thing is sure: left-wing voices will have a chance to be heard – assuming they have something relevant to say.

Frank Brenner

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Vote for Nobody

When Odysseus told the one-eyed Cyclops he had just blinded that his name was “Nobody”, he momentarily confused the giant and his brothers, allowing him and his men to escape.  Is there not a lesson here for the 2016 election?  Can we not register our disgust with the two party system by voting for “Nobody” and could this not cause some disarray in the ranks of the capitalist class who have rigged this election from the start? I only make this suggestion half in jest because in fact there is no one to vote for in this election.

The 2016 election campaign is noteworthy for exposing the fundamentally anti-democratic nature of American political life.   This is open and obvious with the demagogy and bullying of Trump. With Clinton it is mostly behind the scenes, but occasionally we can see a glimpse of her contempt for ordinary people through the leaks of her speeches at Goldman Sachs.  She says one thing on the campaign trail where she claims to speak for working people and quite another when she addresses the billionaires who back her candidacy.  One can of course say that this two-faced  posture is the norm for successful American political leaders, but rarely has it been exposed so blatantly.

We see on the one hand the rise of a right wing populist movement coalescing around Donald Trump, who has captured the Republican Party and turned it against the patrician establishment that has dominated it for over a century. Trump was able to do this because he was able to channel the anger that a significant section of the working class felt toward the status quo.  His opponents in the Republican primary were a collection of criminals, sociopaths, religious reactionaries, peppered with a few representatives of the old guard who were so obviously out of touch with their constituency that no one took them seriously except the professional pundits. (Remember when Jeb Bush was the clear favorite to win the Republican nomination?) Trump, was able to connect to this constituency of the forgotten white working class, not in spite of his boorishness and bullying, narcissistic personality, but very much because of it. [1] His promise to “Make America Great Again” touched the collective myth of the American Dream, a myth as we have argued, that serves as a substitute for socialism in American political life. [2]

At the same time we saw the rise of a left populism within the Democratic Party with the Sanders campaign.  The Sanders campaign had wide popular support, but the corrupt Democratic Party establishment, solidly behind Clinton as the Wiki-Leaks emails have revealed, conspired to steal the nomination away from Sanders. Despite Sanders’ shameful capitulation to Clinton and the Democratic Party establishment he was for a moment able to articulate policies hearkening back to the New Deal era of the Democratic Party that galvanized tremendous support. His campaign also showed that socialism can now be a popular slogan. Were there a viable revolutionary socialist movement in this country this wave of left populism could have been harnessed for the project of building an independent mass socialist party rooted in the working class. But alas no such movement exists in the United States.  

Instead what we have, with  few exceptions, are sectarian grouplets who are hopelessly isolated from and hostile to the working class on the one hand, and radicals influenced by the remnants of the New Left, who are hopelessly dismissive of theoretical clarity.   Insofar as the “Left” has any presence, it is through the radicals who have absorbed anarchist theories in recent years, theories that make a virtue of an absence of a program and a party.  Their disdain for theoretical clarity is of a piece with their disdain for program and organization.  This explains why, despite their enormous impact on the public imagination, absolutely nothing of lasting political significance came out of either the Occupy Wall Street movement or the Sanders campaign.

In contrast to Trump and Sanders, the Clinton campaign, which from the beginning was identified with the status quo and a continuation of the Obama Administration, never generated any enthusiasm. Her base of support comes from the 10 - 15% of the population who are more or less comfortable. Along with the strata of bourgeois feminists and media flaks from the New York Times, Clinton finds wide support among those middle class layers whose personal assets have grown in the last few years. Also working in her favor are a host of constituencies who are motivated more by their repulsion with Trump than any love for her. She will thus be the beneficiary of Trump’s screeds against Hispanics, Muslims, African-Americans and women.

So voters are now left with a choice - either the reactionary Populism of Donald Trump, a form of populism entangled with an economic policy that supports the wealthy, racism, xenophobia and the rise of fascist armed vigilantes – or support the favorite of Wall Street and the neo-cons, Hillary Clinton, who promises more wars and more attacks on whatever is left of the social safety net despite her phony adoption of some of Sanders policy positions. The 2016 election demonstrates like nothing previously, the bankruptcy of the logic of “lesser-evilism”. Even if one thought that voting for the “lesser-evil” of these two widely hated candidates for President was a viable strategy, it is not at all clear who the “lesser-evil” is in this election.  It is indeed, to hearken back to the Odyssey, a case of being caught between the twin evils of Scylla and Charybdis.  We will leave it to the likes of Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky to explain to us why voting for Hillary Clinton is the “lesser evil” in this election.[3]  Their logical gymnastics in support of the candidate of Wall Street and the military industrial establishment should once and for all put an end to their reputation as radicals of any sort. [4]

One thing this election has done is write the epitaph of the two party system and that is a positive outcome. These putrid political formations are overripe for extinction. The Republican Party is now hopelessly fractured, with many prominent Republicans refusing to support their own Presidential candidate. In fact, Clinton is the Republican candidate in this election in all but name whereas Trump is in effect running as a Third Party candidate.  The remnants of Sanders supporters will not likely find a home in the Democratic Party which has been exposed as being even more anti-democratic than the Republican Party.  What we have now is an enormous potential for the rise of a new party representing the working class.  Whether that happens depends to a great extent on whether the left can learn the lessons behind the dissolution of Sanders’ “political revolution” and the Occupy movement.

Insofar as this election is concerned, one is still left with the question, “If not Trump or Clinton, why not vote for one of the other candidates?” While none of the other candidates stands a chance of winning could a vote for them advance the cause of socialism?  It’s a legitimate question. But an examination of third party candidates provides few reasons for optimism.  The obvious alternative to Clinton or Trump is the Green Party candidate, Jill Stein.  Stein has gained some support by articulating policies supporting social equality and opposing U.S. imperialism.  But the Green Party is not a working class party in any sense and has never adopted an explicitly socialist program. Insofar as Stein and her supporters think her policy proposals can be achieved within the profit system – a more humane form of capitalism – they are subscribing to a dangerous illusion.  Furthermore, Stein has selected for her running mate, Ajamu Baraka, a person who is at home attending conferences of Holocaust deniers.[5]  This alone should disqualify her from consideration.

In New York State, with its arcane election laws designed to keep third party candidates off the ballot, the only candidate on the ballot besides Clinton, Trump and Stein running for President is the reactionary nincompoop Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party.  New York State does have a procedure for registering as an official “write-in” candidate however.  If you register as an official candidate then your vote must be counted whereas if you are not registered a write in vote for you is simply tossed out. The procedure for registering as an official write-in candidate is not very difficult, consisting of little more than filling out an application obtainable online. There are 32 official write-in candidates for President in New York State. The only name I recognized in the list was that of Gloria la Riva, from the Party for Socialism and Liberation, a break off from the Workers World Party. Neither the Socialist Workers Party’s candidate, Alyson Kennedy, nor the Socialist Equality Party candidate, Jerry White, was included in the list of registered write-in candidates. It is clear that if they could not even be bothered to submit an application to be a write-in candidate that their campaigns are not at all serious but a Potemkin village production designed to impress their membership and bolster morale.

In years past, I voted for the candidate that came closest to the socialist policies I support. On those occasions when no candidate was even close to my political orientation, I would vote for whatever party was running that had the word “Socialist” in its label just to make a symbolic statement. Unfortunately, although there are official write-in candidates on the ballot in New York, their party affiliation is not registered. So you cannot even vote for a party this year in New York that says it is “socialist” despite the fact that the “socialist” label became popular among millions through the Sanders campaign.

Given the paucity of even a making a symbolic statement in this election, my conclusion is that the lesser evil is to vote for Nobody. 

According to the New York Times polling information, Hillary Clinton is all but assured of winning the election as she has the necessary votes in the Electoral College already locked up. However the popular vote according to the latest polls is very close and it is conceivable that Clinton could win the Electoral College vote but lose the popular vote. If that happens it would embolden the authoritarian elements not only in the Republican Party, but in the military and police apparatus of the national security state to openly sabotage a Clinton Presidency from the start. Trump and his right wing enablers are already, even before the election, threatening to impeach Clinton. And reports that elements within the FBI have been leaking false information to the press in an attempt to undermine Clinton’s candidacy indicate that significant sections of the ruling class are prepared to do away with the fig leaves of democracy in favor of an openly authoritarian state. Even if Clinton wins by an overwhelming margin Trump and his supporters within the state apparatus will not recognize her legitimacy. The United States will become ungovernable. There is no going back to “normal” times. We are entering a period with no parallel in our history with the exception of the period leading up to the Civil War.  Ahead lies great dangers but also great opportunities for the emergence of a revolutionary socialist alternative.

[1] One political scientist has shown that an identification with authoritarian ideas is a good indication of a preference for Trump:
This discovery was anticipated more than 80 years ago by the pioneering study of the authoritarian personality in Weimar Germany by the Left Freudian psychoanalyst, Erich Fromm, whose research was supported by the Frankfurt School.
[3] Both Chomsky and Moore have have made what they consider serious arguments for supporting Clinton as the “lesser evil”. See for instance,
[4] Some left commentators have argued that it is really  Trump who is the “lesser evil”. See for instance,
[5] See . After his relations with Holocaust deniers were publicized, Baraka denied that he supported Holocaust denialism, claiming he was unaware of Kevin Barrett’s connections to anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. It defies credibility that Baraka was ignorant of the background of a person on whose radio show he has appeared twice and for whose anthology he contributed an essay. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

On the 99th Anniversary of the Russian Revolution: Lenin - An Appreciation

Note: Today is the 99th Anniversary of the Russian Revolution. We are reprinting an essay written on the first anniversary of the Russian Revolution by the American Marxist, Louis C. Fraina.  Fraina, who is little known today, was one of the founders of American Communism, and for a period one of its leaders, having led a left wing split from the conservative leadership of the Socialist Party. He was, (as chronicled in the recent book, Trotsky in New York 1917: A Radical on the Eve of Revolution, by Kenneth D. Ackerman), an early supporter of Trotsky who fought for a revolutionary internationalist position in the Socialist Party, opposing American entry into World War I.  In later years he was known as Lewis Corey and wrote a number of books on economic theory.  He was hounded out of the Communist Party in the 1920's as a result of false charges labeling him a spy planted by an FBI agent. He later worked with the CP but was disgusted with Stalinism and finally broke with  them. Ironically, in the 1950s, he became a victim of the McCarthyite witch hunts and was threatened with deportation.  He died in 1952 before his case was adjudicated.

Lenin — An Appreciation.

by Louis C. Fraina

Published in One Year of Revolution: Celebrating the First Anniversary of the Founding of the Russian Soviet Republic: November 7, 1918. (Brooklyn, NY: The Class Struggle, 1918), pp. 3

Marx was the master of the Revolution in theory. Lenin is the master of the Revolution in action. But as Marx, the man of theory, had great capacity for action, so Lenin, the man of action, has great capacity for theory.

In fact, the dominant form of the activity of Marx and Lenin is determined not by peculiar talent or characteristics, but by the historic milieu conditioning their activity. This is precisely the mark of the great rebel — that he concentrates upon the fundamental revolutionary task of his day.

If I were asked what particular phase of Lenin appears to me as decisive, I would answer: his dynamic capacity to unite theory and practice. This is not as simple a thing as it may appear. Usually, the Socialist is an opportunist, who casts aside every real opportunity for immediate revolutionary action, becoming an adept in bourgeois liberal activity and social reformism, accepting theory in the facile fashion of an average Christian accepting his religion — repudiating the revolutionary tasks of Socialism; or a “revolutionist” becomes an adept in using formulae, whose action is hampered by the silken cord of abstract theory, absorbed so much in the Revolution that the requirements of the immediate revolutionary struggle are allowed to pass into the years of wasted opportunity — paltering with the revolutionary tasks of Socialism. Each of these two types of Socialists evade all actual problems of the Revolution. Action must be directed by theory, and theory must become action. An uncompromising revolutionist, Lenin has an overwhelming sense of reality. The Revolution to him is not a dress parade of amicable transformation, of the pacific “penetration” of Capitalism by Socialism; nor is it the conquest of Capitalism by the formulation of “revolutionary” theory and formulae, much as a bourgeois “idealist” sees in general principles of human action the means for the emancipation of the world. No; Lenin conceives the Revolution as a series of implacable, brutal class struggles; as a process in which theory and action are inseparably united; as a dynamic movement in which every opportunity, every crisis, every strength, weakness, and peculiarity of the social alignment becomes the subject of study and appropriate action.

Let it not appear from this that Lenin is an opportunist wavering with each new shift of the social wind; Lenin has the utmost scorn, and justly, for the miserable opportunist who shifts and wavers, hesitates and compromises, and uses “reality” as a justification. Adapting one’s self to temporarily dominant facts, compromising with issues and forces fundamentally contrary to Socialism on the specious plea of “necessary action,” is not to adapt one’s self to reality, but to accept forms instead of substance, the appearance of reality for reality itself. Reality is infinitely deceptive. At the moment when the war and Tsarism constituted the “reality” in Russia, a new reality appeared and burst forth, the action of the revolutionary proletariat, the reality of revolutionary Socialism. Life is consistent in spite of apparent inconsistency. There must be consistency in theory and in action, based upon adapting each to the fundamental facts of the forces and tendency of Capitalism and the revolutionary proletariat. Consistency that is flexible, and flexibility that is consistent, are instruments of the Revolution. When the moment for “necessary action” comes — revolutionary action — the opportunist will waver and oppose this necessary revolutionary action, as did the majority Socialists in Europe, the “men of action”; while the man who was accused of not being “in action,” who rejected participation in certain action as contrary to Socialism and the class struggle, becomes the director and inspiration of the greatest of all revolutions.

It might make one cynical, if life itself didn’t suppress cynicism in the revolutionary Socialist, to consider certain reactions toward Lenin. There are many who consider Lenin a sort of bolt from the blue, a miraculous product of the Russian Revolution; there are others who bitterly attacked Lenin, now singing his praises, while they try to compress Lenin’s policy into the small space of their petty purposes and corrupt ideology; and there are still others who invoke Lenin and the proletarian revolution in Russian while pursuing the petty bourgeois, opportunistic policy of moderate Socialism which they have always pursued, and which Lenin condemned, condemns, and will continue to condemn... And Lenin serenely, uncompromisingly, adheres to the revolutionary theory and action compromising his fundamental policy for twenty years, disaster and success alike emphasizing his revolutionary energy and initiative....

During the course of years Lenin labored in comparative obscurity, forging the concepts that have become the thunderbolts of the Russian Revolution. Lenin represented the minority, that minority of revolutionary Socialism which in all nations actively represents the Revolution and is the hope of the proletariat. The world of Socialism — that is to say, the world comprised in the petty bourgeois Socialism of the Second International — rendered homage to clay idols, to Karl Kautsky, to Georgii Plekhanov, to Jules Guesde, all of whom collapsed miserably under the test of the revolutionary crisis produced by the war. The world of petty bourgeois Socialism invoked the German Social Democracy, the British Labour Party, the French Socialist Party, the dominant Socialism in Russia, while it ignored, condemned, or knew nothing of the Bolsheviki and other groups of the revolutionary minority, the policy of which conquers in Russia, and will conquer everywhere by means of the New International of the final struggle and victory. But Lenin was not swerved from his course by apparent failure, no more than he has been swerved from his course by success. In these years of preparation for the Revolution, in these bitter years of momentary triumph of a Socialism essentially counterrevolutionary, Lenin developed the fundamentals of his policy, which his revolutionary integrity and mastery of theory convinced him were in accord with the fundamental facts and tendency of Capitalism and the proletariat, and which would necessarily conquer under the impulse of the universal crisis generated by Imperialism, which introduces the new revolutionary epoch of the proletarian class struggle.

The courage and initiative of the man, his integrity and devotion to the fundamental tasks of Socialism, his refusal to temporize with revolutionary consistency, policy, and honor for the sake of meretricious popularity, are marvels of character and vision, an inspiration to the Socialist and the rebel.

It is impossible to chronicle here the achievements of Lenin. But there is one achievement, I think, which is characteristic. I was discussing Lenin with a comrade the other day, and he said: “It rather tires me to read so much in which Lenin repeatedly insists, as against Karl Kautsky, that Marx said this or meant that. A man who has accomplished what Lenin has in Russia doesn’t have to worry about Marx.” But Marxism is the theoretical instrument of the proletarian revolution; it is upon the basis of Marxism that Lenin builds. And a great achievement of Lenin is the restoration of Marxism to its real character as an instrument of revolutionary action. During the past twenty-five years, Marxism has experienced a transformation, becoming the means of interpreting history and a fetish of controversy, instead of a maker of history and an instrument of revolutionary action. This degrading conception of Marxism was dominant in the old International. The “Marxist,” instead of using Marxism to interpret new revolutionary developments, used their atrophied Marxism as a means of crushing new revolutionary ideas or compressing them into the stultifying limits of the old tactics, and justifying or explaining away every abandonment of revolutionary Socialism by the dominant petty bourgeois Socialism. Lenin used Marx against these pseudo-Marxists, insisted on making Marxism an instrument of revolutionary action, built upon the basis of Marxism and amplified its scope. Marx is again the rebel, and not the slave of the Socialist pedant. Lenin used Marxism to interpret the new social alignments of imperialism, the new forms of the class struggle, and to forge the concepts of theory and action corresponding to the new revolutionary epoch.

Lenin’s theoretical activity bulks large. His Development of Capitalism in Russia is considered a master work, as is his Agrarian Problem in Russia; his Imperialism: The Final Stage of Capitalism is a splendid analysis of the prevailing epoch, a brilliant unity of theory and action in Socialist interpretation. Then there is Lenin’s pamphlet, The State and the Revolution, a discussion of the determining problem of the proletarian revolution; and his numerous pamphlets and other works issued during the Revolution, and which are classics of the application of fundamental Socialism to the problems of immediate, dynamic action during a revolutionary crisis. This theoretical work of Lenin will yet become a source of inspiration in the coming reconstruction of Socialism, supplemented by the accomplishments of the proletarian revolution in Russia.

It is not in any sense a concession to the Carlylean theory of “the Great Man” to admit that each great epoch of history expresses itself, focuses itself, in a great individual: Marat individualized the proletarian tendency of the French Revolution, Marx individualized the theoretical coming-of-age of the revolutionary proletariat; and Lenin individualizes the proletarian revolution in Russia.

Greetings, men and women of the proletarian revolution in Russia! Greetings, Lenin, symbol of the oncoming revolutionary Socialism that will conquer in spite of all!

Louis C. Fraina.