Were the Mensheviks a real alternative?

November 15, 2017 at 12:07 pm (democracy, Eric Lee, history, imperialism, Marxism, national liberation, posted by JD, revolution, Russia, trotskyism, USSR, war)

Eric Lee is a journalist and historian who has spent over thirty years researching independent Georgia, and has himself been active in trade union and political struggles in both the US and UK. His previous works include Saigon to Jerusalem: Conversations with Israel’s Vietnam Veterans (1993) and Operation Basalt: The British Raid on Sark and Hitler’s Commando Order (2016).

Paul Vernadsky reviews The Experiment: Georgia’s Forgotten Revolution 1918-21 by Eric Lee; followed by a response from Eric (the review first appeared in the AWL’s paper Solidarity, which will also carry Eric’s reply)


Eric Lee’s mischievous new book, argues that the Georgian Menshevik republic was an alternative to the Bolshevik-led workers’ government, which came to power in October 1917.

This is absolute fantasy, which confuses discussion of working-class politics at the time and the importance of the Russian revolution for today’s class struggles.

Russia annexed Georgia in 1798 and the Transcaucasia region remained a largely underdeveloped part of the tsarist empire until the discovery of oil in the late nineteenth century. In 1892, Noe Zhordania founded the first Georgian Marxist circle, the “third group”. It played a key supporting role in the Gurian peasant uprising between 1902 and 1906. Lee’s book explains the origins of the revolt over grazing rights, as well as its limits (its courts dwelt heavily on punishing adultery). Zhordania’s social democrats won a wide base of support during the struggle.

In 1903, Zhordania took part in the second congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, joining the Menshevik faction against the Bolsheviks. Georgian social democrats backed the central tenet of Menshevism: that the Russian revolution would be bourgeois and the socialists’ primary task was to promote a bourgeois republic. In Georgia, the Mensheviks won landslide victories in elections to the tsarist Duma. Most of the prominent Menshevik leaders became Duma members, including Zhordania, Irakli Tsereteli and Noe Ramishvili. Zhordania led the social democratic faction in the short-lived First Duma, while Tsereteli headed the much larger united social democratic faction in the Second Duma.

Lee’s book is strangely reticent about the First World War.

He says that a number of Georgian Mensheviks including Zhordania were sympathetic to the Allied cause. However the picture was worse than that. Tsereteli and other Mensheviks took a more internationalist position — at least until the tsar was overthrown. Zhordania fought for a “defencist” position and even wanted the Menshevik Duma fraction to vote for war credits.

Lee’s book also brushes over the importance of Georgian involvement in the events of 1917. Tsereteli was freed by the February revolution and went to Petrograd, where he was the architect of Menshevik participation in the provisional government (he became a minister) and support for the war, known as “revolutionary defencism”. Carlo Chkheidze promoted the same politics as chair of the Petrograd Soviet until September. As such they were responsible for the disastrous Menshevik orientation during the revolution.

Lee reports that in Tiflis after the February revolution, the local tsarist official Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaievich announced that he would be leaving, but expressed confidence that Zhordania and other social democrats could be trusted with power. As he put it, they were “on the side of order”. On 16 March 1917, the Tiflis Soviet was established. Zhordania was elected chair and promoted class collaboration.

The Georgian Mensheviks were united in their opposition to the Bolshevik-led seizure of power in October 1917. It was their visceral hostility to the Russian socialist revolution that dictated their course in the years afterwards. Lee admits that Georgia’s separation from Russia was not part of socialist agitation before 1917. The rejection of separatism was so strong that Georgian social democrat speeches would end with “Down with Georgia! Long live the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party!” Nevertheless, Zhordania and the Mensheviks embraced separatism.

On 22 April 1918, Georgian, Armenia and Azerbaijan proclaimed their independence, forming the Democratic Federative Republic of Transcaucasia. It dissolved five weeks later and the National Council of Georgia, chaired by Zhordania, made its declaration of independence on 26 May 1918. Immediately faced with attacks by Turkey, the new Georgian government turned to Imperial Germany for support. Lee argues that Georgia had no choice, because “small nations can only defend themselves if they have strong allies”. But Georgia could have remained part of Soviet Russia, rather than run into the arms of the imperialist powers. Read the rest of this entry »

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Iranian sugar workers need our solidarity today

July 20, 2017 at 3:22 pm (Eric Lee, Iran, LabourStart, solidarity, workers)

From Eric Lee of Labourstart:

Workers at the giant Haft Tapeh sugar cane plantation and mill complex in the southern Iranian city of Shush formed an independent union in 2008 following a 42-day strike to demand long-standing wage arrears. Union leaders have endured arrest, prison and blacklisting. Today, the workers and their union again face repression as they demonstrate to claim massive wage and benefit arrears.

Conditions have worsened since the company was privatized in a murky deal in 2015 whose details have never been fully brought to light. Since October last year, workers have had to repeatedly hold strikes and demonstrations to demand payment of wages and benefits, most recently in June this year. Thousands of workers have not been paid their wages for two months and as many as four. Pension benefits have been suspended in recent months because of the company’s failure to pay into the state social security scheme. Over half the plantation and mill workers have no permanent employment contracts and live in a state of permanent insecurity. Current and retired workers and their family members have been harassed and threatened with closure of the company if they continue to demand their rights. Workers are routinely harassed, dismissed and kept under constant surveillance of the security forces.

The Haft Tapeh workers and their union are demanding full payment of wage and benefit arrears; recognition of the union as the workers’ legal representative; and the company’s return to government ownership.

Please take a moment to support the IUF’s campaign to demand justice for these workers:

http://www.labourstart.org/go/haft

And please share this message with your friends, family and fellow union members.

Thank you!

Eric Lee

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Eric Lee debates the AWL on ‘1917: Freedom or Tyranny?’

July 4, 2017 at 3:57 pm (AWL, democracy, Eric Lee, history, Lenin, Marxism, posted by JD, revolution, Russia, stalinism, USSR)

From Eric’s blog:

Last night I participated in a debate with the Alliance for Workers Liberty in central London on the subject of “1917: Freedom or Tyranny?”. The following is the text of my opening remarks.

I want to begin by congratulating Paul (Hampton) and the AWL on the publication of this book. While we will disagree on some important things – which we will come to this evening – we agree on the enormous historic importance of the 1917 Russian revolution, and I welcome any attempts to grapple with the issues raised.

Paul’s book offers new insights, such as the critical discussion about Lenin’s “revolutionary defeatism”. And of course I welcome all the very positive references to Karl Kautsky and the German Social Democracy, which are often lacking in the writings of those who come from the Leninist tradition.

Let me very briefly comment on four of the questions that were posed for this evening’s debate:

Was the Bolshevik party of Trotsky and Lenin a conspiracy of elitist “professional revolutionaries”, or a mass movement organically rooted in the Russian working class?

Maybe it was both.

The Bolsheviks were elitist and conspiratorial and this was pointed out by such leading revolutionary Marxists of the time as Rosa Luxemburg and Trotsky himself.

Rosa Luxemburg wrote a blistering critique of Lenin’s view of the Party way back in 1904. She ended her essay, which had the catchy title of “Organizational Questions of the Russian Social Democracy” with this memorable sentence:

“Let us speak plainly. Historically, the errors committed by a truly revolutionary movement are infinitely more fruitful than the infallibility of the cleverest Central Committee.”

In that same year, Trotsky wrote this memorable critique of Lenin:

“these methods lead … to the Party organisation ‘substituting’ itself for the Party, the Central Committee substituting itself for the Party organisation, and finally the dictator substituting himself for the Central Committee.”

Yet thirteen years later, Trotsky joined Lenin’s Party, and tragically witnessed his own prophecy come true.

But it was not all about conspiratorial elites.

As the Provisional Government in 1917 failed to deal with the challenges facing the peoples of the Russian empire, in particular ending the war and dealing with the peasant hunger for land, the Bolsheviks picked up considerable support among workers in Petrograd and, most importantly, in the army garrison in the imperial capital.

In other parts of the empire, most notably in Georgia, the Bolsheviks had hardly any support at all.

In other words, there are aspects of the October revolution that resembled a popular uprising and others that look more a military coup.

There were elements of both. Read the rest of this entry »

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Iranian teachers’ union leader on hunger strike

May 28, 2017 at 5:56 pm (Eric Lee, Human rights, internationalism, Iran, LabourStart, posted by JD, solidarity, unions, workers)

.

Eric Lee writes:

The name Esmail Abdi should be familiar to you.  In the past, I’ve asked for your help in demanding that the Iranian government free this leader of the Tehran teachers’ union.  Abdi was sentenced to six years in jail on bogus charges and teachers’ unions around the world, led by the Education International, have been demanding his release.

Now things have suddenly gotten much worse.

On 30 April, Esmail Abdi began a hunger strike to protest the continued, unlawful repression of teachers and human rights defenders and the lack of independence of justice in Iran.

Abdi is kept in harsh detention conditions and denied communication with his family and lawyer.

The hunger strike is taking a toll on his health, putting his life in serious danger.

And the prison authorities have not reacted to any of his demands.

Please take a moment to show your support for this brave trade unionist:

http://www.labourstart.org/go/hungerstrike

And please share this campaign with your friends, family and fellow trade union members.

Thank you!

Eric Lee

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Remembering Munich 1972 – and the reaction of some on the left

August 5, 2016 at 1:14 pm (anti-semitism, Eric Lee, history, israel, Middle East, palestine, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", sport, terror)

The 11 Israeli Olympians who were murdered during the 1972 Summer Games in Munich. (Danny Ayalon Youtube Channel)

The Israeli Olympians murdered at the 1972 Summer Games in Munich. (Danny Ayalon Youtube Channel)

After forty-four years the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has held an official memorial for the eleven Israeli athletes killed at the 1972 Games in Munich.

In the early hours of 5 September, Palestinian terroists from the Black September group clambered over security fences at the Olympic Village, made their way to the Israelis’ quarters and took a group of them hostage.

The terrorists, who murdered two of the Israeli athletes, demanded the release of more than 200 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. It ended with a botched rescue attempt by German police in which all nine of the remaining hostages, and a policeman, were killed.

Ankie Spitzer, widow of Andre, one of the victims,  says she has asked for a minute of silence ever since the 1976 Games.

The request was turned down, and she says she was told it was “because then there were 21 Arab delegations and if they [the IOC] would do a memorial all these delegations would boycott, and they would go home”. There have been other “excuses” since.

Now, after years of campaigning, Ankie Spitzer and the other victims’ relatives have the consolation of a memorial ceremony in the athletes’ village in Rio, where a memorial stone was be unveiled.

The Olympic historian, Jules Boykoff, author of the recently-released Power Games: A Political History of the Olympics, says part of the explanation for the delay was “a guiding fiction that the IOC has long clung to – that politics and sports don’t mix”.

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Below, Eric Lee in an article first published in 2012, recalls the response of the American SWP (not connected with the British organisation of the same name):

This may be news to some, but what is today commonplace was once quite rare. I’m referring to anti-Semitism on the far Left — and am reminded of what some of us saw as a turning point back in 1972.

For a quarter of a century following the defeat of Nazi Germany, anti-Semites everywhere were laying low — especially in the West. The Soviet leadership was growing increasingly anti-Jewish and anti-Israel, and anti-Semitism was rife in the Arab world, but in countries like the USA, it was quite rare for Jew-hatred to be expressed openly. And certainly not on the Left.

So while there were various degrees of criticism of Israel — especially of Israel’s brand-new occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, Sinai and the Golan Heights — these took place at a time when anti-Semitism remained taboo.

That’s why the Munich massacre of that year — and particularly the reaction of America’s largest far Left group to it — was such a shock.

The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) was then still riding on a wave of support following its successful leadership of a large part of the anti-war movement during the Vietnam years — a war that was still raging. Its youth section, the Young Socialist Alliance, was strong on many college campuses. And it was still at that time pretty much an orthodox Trotskyist organization, though was later to drift.

When 11 Israeli athletes were killed following the attack by Black September terrorists, most political activists either grieved or denounced the terrorists. Some would have criticized the botched German government attempt to rescue them.

But not the SWP.

In its weekly newspaper The Militant, the SWP ran an article on the “real victims of the Munich massacre”. And the real victims, in their eyes, were not the 11 innocent Israelis, but … the Palestinians.

An editorial in “The Militant” following the Munich massacre labelled the world outcry as a “hypocritical roar of indignation” whose purpose really was “to make the criminal look like the victim” and said the massacre itself was merely a mistake in tactics.

Those of us who were in the Socialist Party, at that time still under the ideological leadership of Max Shachtman, were shocked at the SWP’s stance.

Our youth section, the Young Peoples Socialist League (YPSL) produced a flyer for distribution at SWP and YSA events where we bluntly accused our former comrades of having crossed the line from criticism of Israel to hatred of the Jewish state — and of Jews.

The SWP was shocked at the allegation and responded by publishing a series of articles in “The Militant” defending their record in the fight against anti-Semitism, going back to the Second World War.

Looking back at that today, it strikes me what an innocent time that was.

Today, if a group on the Left is accused of anti-Semitism it rarely goes to the lengths that the SWP of 1972 went to defend themselves.

Accusations of Jew-hatred are today greeted with a shrug.

What was so shocking 40 years ago — that a socialist organisation would identify somehow with a brutal terrorist attack on innocent people if those people happen to be Jewish — is commonplace now.

In the decades that followed the Munich massacre, the SWP drifted away from Trotskyism and lost nearly all of its members, leaving only a tiny organisation left, bereft of all influence.

But the poisonous legacy of anti-Semitism remains

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Putin’s Party

July 29, 2016 at 7:35 am (Democratic Party, Eric Lee, Green Party, populism, posted by JD, Putin, reactionay "anti-imperialism", Republican Party, Russia, United States)

Eric Lee reports (28/07/2016) from Philadelpia. Republished from Eric’s blog:

Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A few years after the second world war, a strange book was published in New York City.  It was called The Russian Menace to Europe and judging by the title, one would imagine it was one of many books which focussed public attention on the threat posed by the emerging Soviet superpower.

The book’s authors, however, were Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

It was a collection of essays, mostly newspaper articles, written by Marx and Engels in the 19th century.  The Russia they were concerned about was not the Soviet Union, but the tsarist empire.

And yet there were very strong parallels between the two periods, a point Marx himself made (without knowing the future) when he described the unchanging character of Russian foreign policy.

Marx was especially concerned with the way Russia manipulated Western leaders, especially certain British politicians such as Lord Palmerston.  Palmerston’s actions during the Crimean War seemed to benefit Russia so often that Marx was convinced he was the tsar’s agent.

The idea back in the 1950s that Communist Russia and tsarist Russia had so much in common was quite daring.  Today, the idea that Putin’s Russia continues historic patterns stretching back centuries seems less controversial.

Putin’s foreign policy is simply a 21st century version of traditional Russian imperialism, constantly poking and probing its neighbors for weakness.  

In 2008, he brazenly launched a war on Georgia, an independent country to Russia’s south.  He continues to occupy two Georgian provinces with Russian troops.  A few years later, his soldiers seized control of Crimea from Ukraine. And then they triggered a civil war in eastern Ukraine, causing thousands of deaths.

Putin’s 21st century Russian imperialism has its foreign policy too and just like the tsars and the Communists, it seeks to influence Western politicians and public opinion.

In the American elections, the Russians are playing both sides with a considerable measure of success.  The relationship between Putin and Trump is an increasingly transparent one.  Trump has long expressed his admiration for Putin.  And yesterday, he stunned the political world in America by publicly calling on the Russians to release some 30,000 deleted emails from Hillary Clinton’s server which they may have hacked.

But it is not only the far-right Republicans that Putin seeks to influence and control.  For several years now, Putin’s satellite TV news channel Russia Today has tried to influence public opinion in the West by pretending to offer an alternative view of the world.  It is has had a certain limited success.

I spent yesterday not at the Democratic National Convention but at alternative events hosted by both democratic socialist groups and the far Left here in Philadelphia.  Green Party presidential candidate Dr Jill Stein spoke at one of them.  In a packed, airless and extremely hot hall, I saw a number of participants wearing “Hillary for Prison” t-shirts.  It seemed to strike no one as odd that Donald Trump’s slogan had a place at a left-wing meeting.

I imagine that most of the people in the room would broadly accept the world-view espoused by Russia Today — that the United States is the cause of global instability, that Russia threatens no one, and so on.  These views are certainly reflected in the platform of the Green Party.

So we find in America a century and a half after Marx and Engels wrote their essays that on both political fringes, right and left, the influence of the Russian state is clearly felt.  Obviously it is Donald Trump, and not Jill Stein, who needs to worry us.  But both are part of the same broad current who distrust American foreign policy, demonize Hillary Clinton, and have no problem with the autocrat in the Kremlin.

Those groups and individuals, whether they support the Tea Party or are self-styled Communists, are the members of Putin’s Party.

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Proud to be a Zionist

April 14, 2016 at 8:56 pm (anti-semitism, Eric Lee, history, left, national liberation, palestine, posted by JD, socialism, zionism)

kibbutz gan shmuel

One vision of Zionism: Kibbutz Gan Shmuel, 1950

By Eric Lee

Jeremy Corbyn’s brother recently made headlines by tweeting that “#Zionists can’t cope with anyone supporting rights for #Palestine”. That the tweet took place in the context of a heated discussion about how the Labour Party is coping with increasing allegations of anti-Semitism is not the point.

The point is that the word “Zionist” has become toxic on the British Left, and I have a problem with this. On one of the Sunday morning radio shows, Jonathan Freedland was asked about this. He quoted the Israeli author Amos Oz who said that “Zionist” was like a family name. There always needs to be a first name, such as “Religious Zionist” or “Socialist Zionist”. But Freedland himself, when asked, said he’d rather not use the label “Zionist” to describe his own views as it would just cause confusion. There are really two approaches to dealing with political labels that become toxic.

One is to accept reality and abandon them. The other is to be defiant and embrace them. And there are consequences in the real world to choosing one or another of those options. For example, a generation ago, right-wing politicians in America would label every attempt at social reform, no matter how modest, as “socialism”. (They still do, but with less success.) As the Cold War raged, the word “socialist” had become toxic. We on the American Left would argue that by openly calling ourselves “socialists” we were giving breathing space to liberals, and changing the political discourse in the country. Little did we realize that within a few years, an openly socialist politician would be a serious contender for the Presidency.

Still, there are terms we’ve been forced to abandon. Most leftists I know don’t call themselves “communists”, for example. While we can all claim to embrace the ideas expounded by Marx in the Communist Manifesto, most of us accept that it would cause more confusion than it’s worth to try to claim the word for ourselves. This is helped by the fact that up until 1918, most socialists called themselves “social democrats”, and that the Bolsheviks took on the rarely-used “communist” label to distinguish the new parties they were creating. It was a label we could discard because we had a perfectly good alternative. But this is not the case with the word Zionist.

As Freedland and most others would agree, a Zionist is a person who supports the Jewish people’s right to a national homeland. One could be a Zionist and oppose the current right-wing government in Israel. One could be a Zionist and support an independent Palestinian state, side by the side with Israel. One could oppose the occupation and still be a Zionist. In fact, one could even argue that if you really believe the Jewish people need a state of their own, and want it to survive, you must also support reaching an agreement with the Palestinians to share the land which both peoples claim. There is no other future for the Jewish state that I can imagine.

As a Zionist, I therefore support genuine peace and reconciliation between the two peoples — and a two-state solution to bring an end to the conflict. I am happy to embrace the label “socialist Zionist” and the tradition that represents — the kibbutz movement which for decades was a model democratic socialist society, the struggle by left Zionists including a party I was proud to be a member of (Mapam) against racism and for peace, against religious coercion and for social justice for Jews and Arabs. I could, I guess, go along with Freedland and just call myself “a socialist who supports the right of the Jewish people to their own country” — but why not just embrace the label of “Zionist” instead?


This article appears in the latest issue of Solidarity.

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Trumbo: Stalinists as Victims

March 12, 2016 at 9:29 am (cinema, Eric Lee, history, Human rights, mccarthyism, posted by JD, stalinism, United States)

By Eric Lee (first published on Eric’s blog)

Browder.
Earl Browder, American Communist Party leader.

“Trumbo” is a the latest in a series of Hollywood films that looks back nostalgically at the McCarthy era, a time when the good guys were blacklisted writers accused of membership in the Communist Party, and the bad guys were the US government, studio bosses, and right-wing media.

The first of those films was probably “The Way We Were” (1973) starring Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford. Made only a few years after blacklisting had ended, when the Cold War was still raging, it became a template for future films on the subject. The film takes place over several decades, as Streisand and Redford fall in and out of love. In the opening scenes, Streisand plays the very young Katie, a committed activist, and is initially shown as campus leader of the Young Communist League (YCL).

The writers could have chosen which years to use, as the film is deeply rooted in historical events. They could have chosen 1940, for example, when Katie would have been campaigning against US entry into the Second World War, denouncing British imperialism and supporting the Hitler-Stalin pact. But they did not – they set the first scene to the mid-1930s, so Katie is shown advocating for Republican Spain and against the fascists.

The next scene is during the war, but at a time when both the US and the Soviet Union are fighting on the same side, against the Nazis. Katie is no longer denouncing Roosevelt as a war-monger (as she would have done in 1940) and is instead working hard on the war effort, and an uncritical admirer of the beloved President. This was during a time when the Communist Party’s leader, Earl Browder, infamously declared that “Communism is twentieth-century Americanism”.

The remaining parts of the story are set in the late 1940s when the Communists faced the persecution of the Hollywood blacklist, and a final scene shows her crusading against nuclear weapons in the early 1960s.

In other words, the historical setting of every scene in “The Way We Were” is carefully calculated to show off American Communists in the best possible light. They are not shown defending Stalin’s show trials, harassing independent leftists (including Trotskyists), defending the pact with Hitler, and so on. Instead the lovely Katie is backing only the most noble causes.

Films like “The Front” (1976) starring Woody Allen and Zero Mostel continued the tradition, highlighting just how awful the McCarthy era was for Hollywood, destroying the lives of innocent radicals who had done nothing wrong.

“Trumbo” is the latest version of the story. It stars the brilliant Bryan Cranston who was deservedly nominated for several Best Actor awards. But his acting aside, the film continues the portrayal of American Communists as decent people, innocent of any crime, who were victims of right-wing media and politicians.

An early scene shows Trumbo with his daughter, who asks her father if she too is a Communist.

In a cringe-worthy moment, Trumbo asks her what her favourite sandwich is. Ham and cheese, she replies. Well, he tells her, imagine if you came to school with your sandwich and one of her friends didn’t have lunch and was hungry. What would you do? Would you sell him half of your sandwich? Would you ignore him?

The little girl replies, no, of course not, I would share the sandwich. Well then, Trumbo explains, you’re pretty much a Communist.

The reality of Dalton Trumbo is a little bit more complex than that.

Trumbo, like a number of other successful Hollywood writers, was a member of the Communist Party and consistently supported the party line that was handed down from Moscow.

Trumbo admitted in an article that Stalinists in Hollywood succeeded in blocking some films from being made – films that had an anti-Soviet message. Among these was one based on Arthur Koestler’s book, Darkness at Noon.

Trumbo’s most famous book, Johnny Got His Gun, a masterpiece of anti-war writing, was allowed to go out of print following the invasion of the USSR in June 1941. Trumbo’s view was that it was perfectly correct to write and publish an anti-war book when the Soviets were allied with the Nazis, but once Russia itself was under threat, such a book sent out the wrong message.

Some people encouraged Trumbo to keep the book in print during the war. But the author did more than suppress his own best work in the party interest. As he later admitted, he passed on the names of those who had encouraged him with the anti-war message … to the FBI.

Films like “Trumbo,” “The Front” or “The Way We Were” make much of how wrong it is to name names and inform on people. In “Trumbo” several characters are revealed as weak because they do so.

There’s no question that Dalton Trumbo was a great writer, and that the Hollywood blacklist was a dark period in American history. But the Stalinist victims were in many cases no heroes, and whitewashing them and rewriting history does no one any good.


This article was published in Solidarity.

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US voters in Britain feel the Bern

February 29, 2016 at 3:48 pm (Democratic Party, elections, Eric Lee, internationalism, London, posted by JD, reformism, United States)

This article first appeared in the Morning Star:

With Super Tuesday tomorrow, ERIC LEE examines Sanders’ prospects with expat Democrats


TUESDAY March 1 is known as “Super Tuesday” in the US Presidential election, because it’s the first day in the long season of primaries and caucuses on which more than one state gets to vote.

Until now, each individual state had its moment in the sun. Hundreds of reporters from all over the world filled every hotel and guest house in Iowa and New Hampshire.

But on Super Tuesday voters in a dozen states get to choose between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. And Republican voters get to choose between Donald Trump and several other contenders, most of them equally odious.

Some of those states could be easy wins for Sanders, including his home state of Vermont. But others are seen as fairly solid for Clinton, especially some of the Southern states.

What the mainstream media has largely ignored is the 13th state holding a primary that day.

I’m referring to Democrats Abroad, the official Democratic Party group that represents some six million US voters who live overseas. Those voters get to choose 13 delegates who will go to the Democratic National Convention in July in Philadelphia. Any US citizen can show up at voting centres around the world, produce their passport and vote. In Britain there will be such centres in London, Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh and St Andrews. Voting takes place over the course of a week, and there are also options for absentee ballots, including post and email.

The last time there was a contested election inside the Democratic Party, the upstart candidacy of Barack Obama did exceptionally well, beating Clinton two-to-one in the Democrats Abroad global primary.

This year, Clinton stands to lose as well. Sanders is the most likely winner of the global primary. Let me explain why.

Hillary Clinton has a formidable political machine behind her. She’s been able to raise tens of millions of dollars from wealthy backers, including from US citizens living abroad. Her campaign held fundraising events in places like Singapore and Shanghai. In London the Clinton campaign has largely consisted of just such fundraising events. At an upcoming event in London, one can meet Chelsea Clinton — Hillary and Bill’s daughter — for just $500. For another $500, one can be photographed with her.

But there is no evidence of a Clinton campaign on the ground — for example, among the thousands of US students studying in Britain.

The Sanders campaign in London and elsewhere is entirely different. The closest thing to a fundraising event has been the production and sale of some “London for Bernie” T-shirts. There have been several well-attended public meetings, including a launch event in the House of Commons, hosted by a Labour MP, in November, and a more recent event held in union Unite’s headquarters. Both of those events were addressed by Bernie Sanders’s older brother, Larry, who has lived in Britain since the 1960s. The Sanders campaign team, including a very enthusiastic group of students, meets weekly, and has conducted extensive canvassing in the streets of London. It also has a strong online presence on Facebook and the web.

So we can expect the Sanders campaign to win simply because it is better geared up for an election, but there are other reasons as well.

US citizens living abroad are far more likely to be Democrats than Republicans (the Republicans don’t bother to hold a global primary). And among the Democrats, they tend to be on the left wing of the party.

US voters living in Britain, for example, are likely to understand the advantages of single-payer health care based on their experiences with the NHS. In Europe and elsewhere, where public universities are tuition-free, Bernie Sanders’s advocacy of such policies doesn’t come across as particularly radical.

And even Sanders’s embrace of the words “democratic socialist,” which are thought to be a liability among some US voters, are far less likely to scare off US citizens who have lived in countries with large, well-organised labour and social democratic parties.

For those reasons and more, and regardless of what happens in states like Arkansas and Alabama on Super Tuesday, Sanders supporters in Britain are confident that he will win the majority of delegates — but only if people turn out to vote. In conversations with US citizens, including students, it turns out that the vast majority are unaware of the global primary. For that reason, the entire effort of the campaign in the next week or two is devoted to raising awareness and boosting voter turnout.

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Sanders: a socialist headed for the White House?

January 23, 2016 at 5:10 pm (Democratic Party, elections, Eric Lee, posted by JD, socialism, United States)

By Eric Lee

This article appears in the current issue of Solidarity and on Eric’s own blog


Sixty years ago, the Socialist Party ran its last presidential campaign in the United States.

In its heyday, the party could capture upwards of a million votes, achieving this result in 1912, 1920 and again in 1932. The best result was the first one, when Eugene V. Debs led the party to six percent of the national vote. But less than a quarter century after Norman Thomas won nearly 900,000 votes at the height of the Great Depression, the total number of votes the Socialist could muster nationwide was a mere 2,044. Its final Presidential candidate, the successor to the legendary Debs and Thomas, was the little-known Darlington Hoopes.

By then, even the last stalwarts in the party accepted that it was no longer feasible to wage presidential campaigns. Within a year of the Socialists reaching their electoral nadir, the party was strengthened by the decision of Max Shachtman’s Independent Socialist League to join their ranks. The Shachtmanites rejected the traditional independent electoral strategy and called instead for the Socialists to join the ranks of the Democrats.

It took Shachtman and his comrades a decade to achieve their goal under the charismatic leadership of Michael Harrington. While the Socialists were grappling with issues of electoral strategy, a young man joined their youth organisation in Chicago, the Young People’s Socialist League (YPSL).

His name was Bernie Sanders.

Like many other YPSLs (pronounced “Yipsels”), the young Brooklyner was active in the peace movement through the Student Peace Union and the civil rights movement through the Congress of Racial Equality. Before joining the YPSL, Sanders was introduced to politics by his older brother, Larry, who would take him to political meetings. Larry was active in the Young Democrats. It was in the YPSL that Bernie would learn about democratic socialism.

Half a century later, he continues to define himself as a democratic socialist. He advocates a program of reform that most socialists would be very comfortable with, including breaking up the big banks, investing hundreds of billions of dollars in rebuilding the country’s infrastructure and creating employment, health care as a right for all citizens, free tuition at all public universities, campaign finance reform, strengthening union rights, and much more.

His campaign for the presidency launched earlier this year has galvanized the American political system and given new hope for a rebirth of a democratic socialist movement in the country.

What has changed that allows a democratic socialist to emerge, seemingly out of nowhere, to become a serious contender for the presidency sixty years after the unfortunate Darlington Hoopes won only 2,044 votes? And what are his chances to win the Democratic nomination and the presidency in November?

I think that three things have happened to allow a professed socialist to run a credible campaign for the presidency in 2016.

First of all, the economic crisis that hit America (and the world) from 2008, triggered – as it did in many countries – a rise in critical thinking about capitalism. We have seen big gains for parties and leaders once considered “far left” in several European countries, and while this cannot express itself in America in the creation of a new mass party of the left like Syriza, it can and does express itself in social movements like Occupy, in the trade unions and in the liberal wing of the Democratic Party.

But an economic crisis alone cannot create the basis for the rise of a socialist left in a country like America. There have been a number of economic crises, with periods of mass unemployment, in the years since 1932, but none of these resulted in the rise of an overtly socialist candidate or movement.

The second factor that allows for the rise of Sanders is the passage of time since the end of the Cold War. One cannot overstate the importance of Stalinism in undermining and weakening the American left over many decades. Whether it was McCarthy-era red-baiting and persecution (which affected everyone on the left, not just the Stalinists) or the idiotic, counter-productive tactics of the Stalinists themselves, it was nearly impossible to say the word “socialism” aloud in America so long as the Soviet Union existed.

But with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, a generation of Americans has grown up with no personal memory of that period, people for whom the word “socialist” is not necessarily a deal-breaker. There are people voting for Bernie Sanders today who were born in 1998, nearly a decade after the Wall came down. All voters under the age of 40 came of age politically only after Communism’s historic defeat.

None of this applies to Sanders, of course. The 74-year-old is a veteran of the YPSL from a time when socialists really were on the margins of American life, and when “socialism” really was a dirty word. But his supporters largely come from an entirely different generation, who’ve grown up in a different world.

The third thing that has happened is that Bernie Sanders, who his entire political life has been an independent, an opponent of the two-party system, has chosen to run as a Democrat. Some people on the small organised left in America would have preferred it otherwise. They would have liked to support a campaign like Ralph Nader’s, free of the taint of what Socialists use to call the “sewer” of the Democratic Party.

Nader himself followed in the tradition of a large number of well-intentioned but long-forgotten attempts to forge left-wing third parties in America. These included the peace campaigner Dr Benjamin Spock (People’s Party) who received fewer than 80,000 votes, or ecologist Barry Commoner (Citizen’s Party) who received 234,000 votes. Sanders was personally sympathetic to Nader, Spock and Commoner, campaigning for the latter two. But he learned an important lesson: to win a Presidential election in America, you need to run as a Democrat.

The extraordinary success of his campaign so far – regardless of what happens next – shows that he was right. His campaign is a vindication of everything Max Shachtman, Michael Harrington and their comrades fought for on the American left from the mid-1950s until now.

But does Sanders really have a chance?

I write these words two weeks before the Iowa caucus vote on February 1, the first electoral test of the Sanders candidacy. At the moment, all the polls show Iowa to be a tie between Sanders and Clinton. In the following vote, on February 9 in New Hampshire, polls show Sanders winning. If America wakes up on February 10 to learn that Bernie Sanders has won both Iowa and New Hampshire, it will represent a political earthquake.

Sixty years after the disappearance of the Socialists from the main stage of American politics, they have made a triumphant return. A former YPSL member from Chicago, still talking about the same democratic socialism he learned in the party of Debs and Thomas, may be on his way to becoming the forty-fifth president of the United States.

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