Sanders to Lead Ideological Fight against Corporate Politics at Democratic Convention


As the July Democratic convention gets closer, the party establishment is mounting pressure on Bernie Sanders to step down and give Hillary Clinton an uncontested path to the presidential nomination. They have been abetted by their allies in the corporate press who until recently have ignored the Vermont senator’s campaign, but now breathlessly repeat uncorroborated allegations of violence by Sanders’ supporters at the Nevada convention.

Media scholar Robert McChesney pointed out: “We had all this reporting about purported threats and violence in Nevada, but it was all based on basically taking at face value the words of one side and dismissing the words of the other side.” After a contested voice vote on convention rules, Sanders delegates had reacted to what they saw as a blatant maneuver to advantage Clinton. The claims of violence were based on a Clinton supporter’s now discredited report that chairs had been thrown at the platform.

What’s really going on is that the establishment elite are using their positions of influence – as they have since the start of the primary election campaign – to rig the process on behalf of their nominee, none more blatantly than DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schulz, who has consistently manipulated the campaign in favor of her preferred candidate, including the appointment of fierce Clinton partisans as leaders of important convention committees. That is why Sanders has said he will not support her primary campaign this year, and if he were president would not re-appoint her.

However, elite control of the two-party system has been destabilized by Donald Trump’s presumptive nomination for the Republicans. Glen Ford of the Black Agenda Report comments: “What Donald Trump has done is to strip the Republican Party down to its white supremacist identity, and in the process he’s discarded much of the corporate and the Wall Street and the global militarist platforms of the old party. … The two-party duopoly, with Trump now leading the Republican Party, would now have only one reliable corporate collaborator, and that would be Hillary Clinton.” Corporate and financial interests would prefer to be assured of Clinton’s easy nomination victory.

Sanders’ resolve to contest the Democratic convention threatens to obstruct such a victory when neither candidate has an absolute majority of primary votes. Robert Borosage of the Campaign for America’s Future advises Clinton to take Sanders on board, if only to avoid a major conflict: “The Clinton team is intent on putting on a tightly scripted convention show that displays unity behind Clinton and focuses the attack on presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump. … Shutting Sanders out, however, would be the height of folly. He’ll come to the convention with more votes, more primary victories and a greater number of delegates  — more than 1,500 — than any insurgent Democratic candidate in decades.”

At the convention, the Washington Post reports, Sanders “plans an aggressive effort to extract platform concessions on key policies that could prompt divisive battles at a moment when front-runner Hillary Clinton will be trying to unify the party. Among other issues, he plans to push for a $15 national minimum wage and argue that the party needs a more balanced position regarding Israel and Palestinians … the issue of U.S. policy toward Israel — which a Sanders adviser said ‘absolutely, legitimately will be a point of conversation’ — has made some of Clinton’s backers nervous. Sanders is seeking a more ‘even-handed’ U.S. approach to Israeli occupation of land Palestinians claim for a future state.” Even a rhetorical acceptance of even-handedness in the Democratic party’s platform, in the context of the over-sized influence of the Israeli Likud party in Washington, has created political tremors.

Washington insider journal The Hill comments: “Sanders’s prime points of focus — the influence of money in the political system and the question of economic inequality — have become the animating issues at the center of the Democratic race. … ‘He has created a movement within the Democratic Party for people who feel they have been left out of the economic system, who feel that elites are in control and offer them no entry point into the system,’ said Hank Sheinkopf, a New York Democratic strategist who has worked for Clinton in the past.”

But this begs a larger question: what will happen to the Sanders movement after the convention? Some of his critics on the left are urging him to run as an independent; others propose he host his own convention outside the party. Campaign participants are engaging in an important discussion about how the movement can achieve an organizational expression without liquidating into the Democratic party.

According to Seattle socialist Kshama Sawant, Sanders should run for the Green party, and if he endorses Clinton he becomes an impediment to progressive politics. She says the election campaign has shown “a tremendous fundamental shift in American consciousness, and that is an anger against corporate politics and a desire to fight against the establishment. … if we are looking for a real strategy to break working people away from Trump, then what we have to do is present a real alternative.” A group of Sanders’ campaign volunteers also argue against intervening in the convention, saying he should quit the race after the June California primary and build an independent organization aimed at defeating Donald Trump, or, as they put it, “single-mindedly devote itself to educating Americans about the threat of right wing (some say fascist) takeover and the task of identifying and mobilizing voters to defend our democracy in November 2016 and beyond.”

However, running outside the Democratic party risks Sanders isolating himself from the anti-Trump movement in the African and Latino American communities, who are likely to mobilize in a big way to vote for the Democratic candidate. As an African American voter in Baltimore said: “Sanders is not the only option. The other option is ‘down with Trump’.” Rocío Sáenz of the Service Employees International Union, which is part of a coalition that has helped thousands of Latinos apply for citizenship in more than 300 “naturalization workshops” around the country, told the Guardian: “There is a sense of urgency as a result of the hateful rhetoric about mass deportations, building walls, calling us criminals – this is personal for us.”

Sanders has already mobilized a sophisticated political network with more than 400,000 volunteers. In These Times reports that “autonomous grassroots organizations began campaigning for Sanders months before his campaign established any official presence on the ground. … Now, those organizations are beginning to build coalitions with labor, socialist parties and progressive groups to set a post-election agenda for the political revolution.”

While some campaigners question whether to continue participating in electoral politics, the focus of much grassroots organizing still includes influencing the platform of the Democratic party. The report continues: “National Nurses United, which endorsed Sanders, is organizing a People’s Summit on June 17 in Chicago, while the People’s Revolution, a group founded by former Occupy organizers, is hosting a People’s Convention in Philadelphia two days before the Democratic National Convention in July. … At the People’s Convention, the group plans to develop and ratify a People’s Platform to present to the Democratic National Convention and set an agenda for the broader movement.”

These intense discussions create the possibility of consolidating a movement inside and outside the Democratic party to combat the corporate takeover of politics and reclaim the party for the people. But it won’t happen without a major ideological battle at the party convention.

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Londoners reject anti-semitism smear and Islamophobia


The FBI is claiming success in dozens of anti-terrorism cases that rely on its undercover agents suggesting bombing campaigns against Jewish targets to susceptible Muslim youth, then supplying fake bombs for suspects to plant. In order for the FBI to avoid the charge of entrapment, the suspects were coaxed by the agents into voicing anti-semitic remarks which could be used to prove predisposition and deny them credibility. The US security forces, of course, cooperate closely with their Israeli counterparts, and appear to have learnt from them the use of allegations of anti-semitism as a political tactic calculated to overcome doubts about guilt.

The same tactic was used by the Tories in the recent London mayoral election, fabricating and amplifying allegations of anti-semitism against individuals in the Labour party – then claiming the party was “riddled with anti-semitism.” Combined with a virulent Islamophobic campaign against the Labour candidate, Sadiq Khan, the Lynton Crosby-masterminded strategy targeted Jewish votes in outer London constituencies that were assumed to be marginal. In parliament, prime minister Cameron tried to tar Jeremy Corbyn with the anti-semitism brush by suggesting an association between Khan and a supporter of ISIS – but the individual he referred to turned out to be a Conservative party supporter.

The tactic rebounded on them when millions of ethnically diverse Londoners, in a turnout sharply higher than four years ago, repudiated the Tory candidate’s racist campaign and elected Khan by a decisive majority. The voters responded to the social issues he campaigned on, above all the crisis of affordable housing and transport, rejecting the Tory policy of pandering to a tiny few in order to attract their wealth.

Demographic changes have changed London’s political profile significantly from previous mayoral elections. Migrant voters and ethnic minorities make up a larger slice of the electorate, and the catastrophic rise in house prices has forced people out of the centre of the city into the outer boroughs, which have become poorer and more diverse. Manchester University lecturer Rob Ford told the Guardian: “Any mainstream party associated with anti-racism, as Labour is, potentially has huge appeal.” The Guardian adds: “The dysfunctional rental and property markets, the spread of unpaid internships, the particularly obvious need in London for more state spending on overcrowded schools and transport infrastructure – all of these have drawn young Londoners towards Corbyn’s mildly anti-capitalist Labour party.”

Socially liberal, multiracial Labour politics are “spreading to cities with significant student and ethnic minority populations, such as Oxford, Southampton, Brighton, Manchester and Bristol, where last week the mayoralty was won by Marvin Rees, a mixed-race Labour candidate close to Corbyn. Simon Woolley of the non-partisan pressure group Operation Black Vote, who followed the Bristol contest closely, says that Rees’s victory was partly achieved by a coalition between black Bristolians and white, liberal incomers from London.”

After his victory, Khan penned an opinion piece in the Observer that implicitly rejects Corbyn’s electoral strategy, suggesting that he is failing to appeal to a wide enough electorate. Khan’s recipe for winning elections is “to unite people from all backgrounds as a broad and welcoming tent – not to divide and rule. … Just like in London, so-called natural Labour voters alone will never be enough to win a general election. We must be able to persuade people who previously voted Conservative that Labour can be trusted with the economy and security, as well as improving public services and creating a fairer society.”

However, although he spent much of his campaign in outer London boroughs touting a pro-business policy, Khan didn’t achieve his majority by winning over disaffected Tories. Nor did the result reflect his religion or charisma. He fails to mention that his success in inspiring young Londoners to come out and vote in such numbers was because of his association with the Labour party’s rejection of neoliberalism under Corbyn’s leadership. Other successful Labour candidates in places like Bristol, Liverpool and Salford had the same experience. Corbyn’s own assessment of the election results was that they were “only the first stage in our task of building a winning electoral majority, attracting voters from all the other parties and mobilising those who have been turned off politics altogether – as we did last week in Bristol and London.” There’s an important difference in nuance between the two statements. Khan is advocating moving the party to the centre to attract Tory voters; Corbyn, by contrast, is in favour of attracting new voters to Labour’s position.

Hostile Labour MPs have seized on Khan’s remarks, as well as his criticism of Labour’s slow reaction to the anti-semitism charges, to blame Corbyn for results that would fail to give the party a majority at the next general election. Their antagonism reflects a struggle to overturn the Labour leadership vote; as Max Blumenthal comments: “The right-leaning elements empowered by Tony Blair are determined to suppress the influence of an increasingly youthful, ethnically diverse party base that views the hawkish, pro-business policies of the past with general revulsion. … Labour’s Blairite wing has embraced a cynical strategy to shatter the progressive coalition that brought Corbyn to power.”

Labour are rightly concerned about their dismal result in Scotland. There, the vote was polarized between nationalist and anti-nationalist, leaving no political space for Labour’s anti-austerity message. Instead, the party was trounced because of its dismal record over the independence referendum. Instead of recognizing it as a chance to reject austerity imposed by a government that Scots never voted for, Labour supported the union. No wonder anti-nationalists preferred to vote for the party that more directly expresses unionism, the Conservatives. No amount of left promises will erase voters’ memories of Gordon Brown huckstering for the Tory side.

Labour needs to continue building social coalitions while recognizing the importance of Welsh and Scottish national identities. The idea of “Britishness” has been eroded by years of industrial decline and the privatization of nationalized industries like shipbuilding, steel, mining, railways and electricity supply that gave the multinational union some coherence and held the labour movement together. The Tories define British identity as presupposing people who are white, property-owning middle class and subordinated to the Westminster parliament, but they have been definitively rebuked in London.

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Why It Is a Mistake for Bernie to Run as an Independent


Now that it’s clear that Hillary Clinton will get the Democratic party presidential nomination after she won four out of five states in last Tuesday’s primary elections, Seattle city councilwoman Kshama Sawant of Socialist Alternative and Jill Stein of the Green party have started an online petition, #Movement4Bernie, to persuade Sanders to run as an independent, or as a candidate for the Green party.

But this puts a symbolic ideological gesture above the social movement that has supported him. Sanders’s supporters, especially millennial youth, come from within the liberal-labor coalition that has traditionally voted Democratic. There is no social basis for an alternative party of the left at the present time, and there’s no sign that voters are prepared to break from the Democrats, even if some of Sanders’ supporters have said they will not vote for Clinton.

Citing a recent Harvard Institute of Politics poll, Josh Marshall notes: “Millennials aren’t just liberal. They’re getting more liberal. And rather than being liberal on policy issues but alienated from the Democratic party, they’re actually become significantly more identified with the Democratic party during this primary process. Are they wild about Hillary Clinton? No, they’re not. But in a general election context, liberal political views and the importance of the Democrats winning the 2016 election seems to more than offset that disaffection.”

It’s important that Sanders doesn’t isolate himself from the movement against Trump. The major concern for the majority of Americans – especially Latino and African American communities – is to defeat Trump, which means voting for whoever the Democratic candidate might be. This is one reason why Clinton won the African American vote in the primaries, since she was considered pragmatically as the best chance of keeping Trump out.

The intensity of the protests at the mogul’s rallies as he gets closer to the Republican nomination reveals the anxieties in these communities. On Friday, protesters blocked access to the venue for the California Republican convention in San Francisco and forced Trump to leave his vehicle and cross a highway to get to the hotel. Hundreds of protesters tried to storm the hotel, many of them high school and college students from local schools.

The Guardian’s Julia Carrie Wong spoke to Silvia Yoc, a 19-year-old student at College of San Mateo, who said she was protesting to “show support for the Latino community and our parents who came here to give us a better life”. Yoc, who was born in Guatemala, said Trump has inspired “a lot of fear in our community”.

The previous day, Trump spoke to a mostly white audience at the Orange County Fairgrounds and blamed illegal immigrants for a spike in violent crime. According to the Guardian, “a crowd of largely Latino but also white and African American demonstrators shouted and chanted slogans before the event, then returned as it drew to a close. Hundreds of people formed human barricades on an approach road to a nearby freeway, blocked the Fairgrounds exits, and waved banners that said ‘Build a Wall Around Trump’ and ‘Dump the Trump’. Police appeared to be caught out by the protesters and had to call in reinforcements to separate them from the Trump supporters flooding into a large parking lot after the rally.”

The LA Times reported: ” ‘I’m protesting because I want equal rights for everybody, and I want peaceful protest,’ said 19-year-old Daniel Lujan, one of hundreds in a crowd that appeared to be mostly Latinos in their late teens and 20s. … ‘This is the anger people have against Trump,’ said Jose Cruz, 21, as he pointed to the protesters running in the middle of the street. ‘It’s not because he’s white – it’s because of what he’s said.’ Several echoed the comments, saying they were drawn to the streets to counter Trump’s stated policies on immigration and his inflammatory remarks about Mexicans.”

Sanders declared that he will campaign until the Democratic convention so as to get the widest possible audience for his message, and is pressing to get a tangible commitment to a more left platform. “We are in this campaign to win, but if we do not win, we intend to win every delegate we can, so that when we go to Philadelphia in July we are going to have the votes to put together the strongest progressive agenda that any political party has ever seen,” he told a student audience in Indiana.

The Washington Post comments: “He’s hoping for signs of genuine commitment to priorities like debt free college and a $15 minimum wage, and to reforms to the nomination process that might maximize participation among the sort of young, unaffiliated Sanders voters who were excluded from the New York primary.”

Jim Hightower argues that Sanders has already won control of the political narrative. “Sanders’ vivid populist vision, unabashed idealism and big ideas for restoring America to its own people have jerked the presidential debate out of the hands of status quo corporatists, revitalized the class consciousness and relevance of the Democratic Party, energized millions of young people to get involved, and proven to the Democratic establishment that they don’t have to sell out to big corporate donors to raise the money they need to run for office.” As Sanders said recently, “When people respond by the millions to your message, then that message is now mainstream. That changes political reality.”

The break from the political establishment that Sanders’ campaign represented lies in his validation of a return to a New Deal consensus. Noam Chomsky points out that Sanders’ policies are “quite strongly supported by the general public, and have been for a long time. That’s true on taxes. It’s true on healthcare. So, take, say, healthcare. His proposal for a national healthcare system, meaning the kind of system that just about every other developed country has, at half the per capita cost of the United States and comparable or better outcomes, that’s considered very radical. But it’s been the position of the majority of the American population for a long time. So, you go back, say, … to the Reagan years, about 70 percent of the population thought that national healthcare should be in the Constitution, because it’s such an obvious right.”

Even more significant is the organizing thrust among his supporters to continue the campaign’s momentum. After the party’s primaries are over, activists plan a June summit in Chicago to enhance the campaigns for a $15 minimum wage, for a tax on Wall Street speculation to fund human needs and jobs, improved Medicare for All, the fight for free and debt-free higher education, secure retirement through expanding social security, ending HIV/AIDS, achieving Constitutional pay equity for women, and ending deportations and support for DREAMers, among other issues. Speakers include Dr. Cornel West, Naomi Klein, and Roseann Demoro of the National Nurses Union.

As Juan Cole comments: “Clinton will continue to need the left wing of the Democratic Party as she campaigns through Nov. 4. The trick for the left will be to find ways of tying her down and making sure she can’t swing back to the center-right of the party after the July convention.”

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Build “Bernie Clubs” in the Democratic Party and make it a Party of the People


Hillary Clinton won the New York state primary elections on Tuesday by a margin of 58 to 42 percent over Bernie Sanders. Undoubtedly many potential Sanders voters were disenfranchised by the state’s draconian election rules which meant that voters had to declare their party affiliation back in October 2015 – before the candidates had even begun campaigning. Sanders is favored by independents and younger voters who often become motivated only in the few weeks before the election, so the vote in the closed primary reflects the choice of party loyalists rather than the people who joined the 27,000-strong rallies he held last week.

The Washington Post reported: “According to the exit polls, Sanders won 67 percent of voters age 18 to 29. Clinton won all the others. … Clinton won 75 percent of the African American vote and 63 percent of the Hispanic vote. 79 percent of Black women supported Clinton. … Although Sanders did win 57 percent of the vote from those who said ‘income inequality’ was the ‘most important issue’, Clinton won 59 percent of the vote of those who said the economy and jobs were their ‘most important issue’.”

According to Alternet: “Media exit polls found that 80 percent of Democratic voters self-identified themselves as very loyal party members, even as they said economic issues were their top concern. That reinforced the party insider’s iron grip on its presidential nominating process.”

While it now looks like Clinton will be the Democratic party’s presidential nominee, it is worth taking stock of what Sanders has achieved through his challenge in the primaries. Thanks to his appeal to younger voters, he has inserted a wedge in the liberal-labor coalition that regularly returns Wall Street-friendly candidates to the leadership of the Democratic party, and opened a political space for the rejection of neoliberalism.

He has won the support of less affluent white liberals, African-American youth, rank-and-filers in the labor movement, and working class minorities like Latino and Arab Americans. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is supported by richer white liberals, African-American middle-aged and older people, the trade union bureaucracy, hedge fund principals and venture capitalists.

The divisions within the Democratic coalition are shown graphically in the protests outside the $33,400 per seat Clinton fundraiser held last Friday at the home of a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley. According to the Guardian, about 200 young Sanders supporters from the technology industry created a commotion with pots and pans at the star-studded fundraiser. “They sell you a dream at startups – the ping-pong, the perks – so they can pull 80 hours out of you,” said Quirk, a 26-year-old software engineer. “But in reality the venture capitalists control all the capital, all the labor, and all the decisions.”

Underlying this political division is a significant social change in the country, dividing younger millennial voters who face joblessness and student debt from their elders. In particular, young African Americans motivated by the fight against police killings have protested the Clintons’ legacy on crime, while older African Americans who remember more vividly the civil rights movement are more sympathetic to 1990s measures taken to reduce crime in black communities rather than today’s concerns about police mistreatment and mass incarceration. Hillary Clinton’s positioning herself as continuing Obama’s legacy also resonates with this demographic, which sees her as the best bet to keep out the Republicans.

The New York Times comments: “The parents and grandparents of today’s young black protesters largely waged the battle for civil rights in courtrooms and churches. They carefully chose people who were viewed as upstanding citizens, like Rosa Parks, to be the face of their movement, and dressed in their Sunday best as they sought to gain broader acceptance. Mr. Clinton endeared himself to these generations by campaigning in black churches and appointing more blacks to the cabinet than any previous president had. But many of today’s activists — whose political consciousness has been shaped by the high-profile killings of black people by the police — do not believe that acting respectfully will protect them from being harassed or shot. They aspire not to become a part of the political system, but to upend it.”

Separate from the Democratic campaign, hundreds of protesters gathered at a Republican rally in Manhattan last Thursday to demand racial justice and “shut down Trump.” According to the Intercept, “protesters called for ‘bridges over walls’ and ‘love over hatred’ but also got more specific, demanding to ‘hold all cops accountable’ and chanting Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Alright,’ the unofficial anthem of the Black Lives Matter movement. … Regardless of who wins, they insisted, their anti-racism work will continue, as will their demand that elected officials be held accountable.”

Sanders attracted the votes of a much higher proportion of black youth in the North and Midwest, which enabled him to win the Wisconsin primary and come close to Clinton in Michigan, compared to the South where Clinton retains overwhelming support in the black community. Many black political leaders have close ties to the Clintons and look to the Democratic party establishment for patronage appointments in government.

The hostility of the establishment to Sanders is evident in the many negative articles in the corporate media about his campaign, such as Paul Krugman’s attacks on his economic plans in the New York Times. The news agencies give him little coverage compared to the attention paid to Donald Trump, and when they do it is to disparage him – like the interview with the New York Daily News where he was sandbagged by the editorial board on how he would break up the “too big to fail” banks, enabling Clinton to “grossly distort” what he had to say.

If he doesn’t win the nomination, Sanders has indicated he will drive as hard a bargain as he can to give his support to the elected nominee. This could have a major impact; he has also stated that the campaign should not end after the election (unlike Obama, who dismantled the social coalition that elected him). Sanders told The Young Turks: “if I can’t make it, and we’re going to try as hard as we can until the last vote is cast, we want to completely revitalize the Democratic Party and make it a party of the people, rather than just one of large campaign contributors.” This egalitarian sentiment is significant and pits Sanders against the party leadership.

In These Times notes: “Part of what excites progressives about Sanders’ campaign is the possibility that it will build infrastructure that can be channeled into state and local races, as well as politics beyond the ballot box. While every candidate depends on volunteers, Sanders’ operation is unusual in the degree to which supporters are encouraged to organize independently. … ‘I couldn’t find any events when I was available, so I just started making my own,’ says Nicole Press, a freelance stage manager and teacher who has organized five voter registration drives in Harlem. … In the course of this organizing, Press met so many other Harlem supporters of Sanders that she co-founded a volunteer group, Harlem for Bernie, that now has dozens of members.”

The grassroots movement that has emerged in Sanders’ campaign needs to be given organizational form in order to challenge the Democratic party establishment. “Bernie Clubs” should be created within the party to continue to press for egalitarian policies and to elect “Bernie Democrats” in contested primaries for state and local offices. That way corporate Democrats can be defeated from below and the party revitalized.

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Book Review: Cliff Slaughter’s “Against Capital”


The book is subtitled: “Experiences of Class Struggle and Rethinking Revolutionary Agency,” and is a compilation of essays by a number of left activists, edited by former British Trotskyist leader Cliff Slaughter.

An interesting section is Terry Brotherstone’s report on discussions of the class significance of the votes, both “Yes” and “No,” in the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence. Labour voters defied the Labour party in the deindustrialized working-class centers of Glasgow, West Dunbartonshire, Dundee and North Lanarkshire to vote “Yes” for independence, and the referendum energized and politicized Scottish youth to an unprecedented extent. The discussion gives a sense of left thinkers and trade unionists coming to grips with the implications of a mass, broad-based movement adopting a vote for national independence as a way of resisting social injustice.

The accompanying essay on British politics and culture, apparently written before the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour party leader in September 2015, now appears somewhat dated; it calls for an analysis that will give the “hope of a new world,” something that Corbyn’s election seems to have channeled. It may be too soon to write off the Labour party as a vehicle for resistance to neoliberalism, since a large grassroots movement voted against the neoliberal Blairites.

Gabriel Levy writes a thoughtful piece on Ukraine that analyzes the use of war and military conflict as a new means of social control following the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the role of state actors in reinforcing separatism, and how this has a disastrous impact on social and labour movements. He gives evidence of a continuing struggle for the independence of the workers’ movement despite war-driven divisions between sections of the movement, when workers in Ukraine’s largest industrial centers now live in what amounts to a military occupation.

The other essays are uneven in character, as the editor admits. A long essay on the Middle East prefaces an account of the Iranian revolution with a comprehensive political-diplomatic history of the region. The revolution itself is analyzed from the standpoint of relations between the pro-Soviet Tudeh party and Fedayeen groups. But little is said about agency, in terms of the social movements leading to the revolution, or social changes in the Middle East.

Contributions from Robert Myers give eyewitness accounts of the internal political conflicts within the ANC that derailed an earlier victory over apartheid in South Africa, and of workers’ struggles in Bosnia; there are also short essays on protest struggles in Spain and strikes in Mexico.

The most disappointing part of the book is Slaughter’s introductory and concluding essays. While maintaining that the left cannot prescribe the form that resistance may take, he writes off the “turmoil” in the British Labour party just at the moment that a surge of support for Corbyn’s anti-austerity stance was building. His celebration of the Greek referendum against EC-imposed austerity also seems off-base in light of the capitulation of Syriza to the EC – the fact the government acted as though they had a strong hand when the game was always rigged in favor of the bankers can only have disillusioned and weakened the Greek public.

Although calling for engaging with all forms of resistance from below, Slaughter’s use of the term “revolutionary agency” introduces a certain ambiguity: while it could mean the way in which masses of people break from social constraints and act in history, it could also refer to the ideas or groups that played a part in attempting a revolutionary insurrection. In a number of essays, the latter interpretation prevails, primarily through criticism of the role of Stalinized Communist parties in heading off possible revolutions. But are all the setbacks of attempted revolutions in all parts of the world due to a failure of leadership rather than objective circumstances?

Unfortunately, Slaughter’s call for a “definitive break” from the idea of a vanguard leadership is not carried through to a critical re-examination of the Second International concepts on which it is based. The concept of the working class as a “structural antagonist” to capital, for example, objectifies it as an abstract global entity whose social composition and historical experience in each country is homogenized, calling into question its agency independent of a leadership party. Likewise, he makes no attempt to deal with the extensive recent literature on the nature of the state, remaining content with repeating the formula that it is “an organization for the oppression of one class by another.”

Slaughter devotes a section to discussing Lenin’s famous endorsement of Kautsky’s phrase about bringing revolutionary consciousness into the working class “from the outside” as part of his rationale for rejecting vanguardist parties. However, he treats it as a part of a purely theoretical debate without going deeper by addressing its social and political context or referring to other historical sources. There was a real social division between workers and intellectuals in the opposition to Tsarism that problematizes Lenin’s characterization of “economism.”  One of these “economist” groups, the “Workers’ Organization” of St. Petersburg, which published Rabochaya mysl, gave organizational expression to workers’ resentment of intellectuals’ social paternalism and elitism by barring intelligenty participation in leadership roles and confining them to the delivery of propaganda and literature. While Lenin’s theses in his pamphlet What is to be Done?, on the other hand, retained a privileged role for intellectuals within the underground movement, they also had an appeal to the more “advanced elements” of worker-intellectuals, especially among the engineers of St. Petersburg, who looked down on the less developed, “gray” workers of the textile mills and tobacco factories.

What distinguished Rabochaya mysl was the thrust of its organizing towards all sections of the working class – beyond the skilled and literate layers. This contrasted with Lenin’s Iskra group which emphasized organizing the “most advanced” elements. Lenin extrapolated from these political disagreements to characterize the economic consciousness of workers as “bourgeois,” since they were fighting for partial reforms, and the consciousness of the radical intelligentsia, who were focused on the overthrow of Tsarism, as “socialist.” But this legalistic definition bore little relation to the actual disposition of class forces: while Iskra adhered to a two-stage program, which gave the proletariat the role of first achieving a constitutional state and only then organizing for a socialist overturn, the economists were moving towards a conception that the political struggle would consist of the effort to overthrow simultaneously both autocracy and capitalism. (Trotsky was thus not original in formulating such a view.)

The question is, not how right or wrong Lenin was in 1902, but why did the autocratic form of leadership that What is to be Done? was used to justify find a social resonance in Britain in the 1960-80s? What was the social and political context of the rise and fall of the Workers Revolutionary Party? When Slaughter recounts the sectarian refusal of the party’s leader, G. Healy, “against all advice,” to let party members sell the rank-and-file newspaper The Miner, he doesn’t raise the question of how Healy was able to exert such arbitrary authority. It can’t be explained by referring to personalities or intimidation alone: he was bolstered by an ideology that rested on the ”Great Man” outlook of Trotskyism, which in turn had social roots in the relation between intellectuals and workers in the left movement. Even if party members had continued to sell The Miner, how would that have changed the balance of class forces in 1985 when the full might of the state was brought to bear on the miners, abandoned by most of the unions in the TUC?

It’s difficult to see how WRP members in the miners’ union could have become a force of “great value” to the strike struggle since their political perspective would have misled them: the significance of the international capitalist turn to financialization and neoliberalism in the 1970s was missed by the Trotskyist movement and the left in general. A new analysis of the historical period when the WRP disintegrated is sorely needed, together with tackling the question of why the WRP’s ideological grip was so powerful up until 1985. Its vanguard ideology had material roots independent of Slaughter’s own intellectual journey; it’s a shame he didn’t write more seriously about them.

Against Capital: Experiences of Class Struggle and Rethinking Revolutionary Agency, Zero Books, Winchester UK, 2015

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The Shifting US Political Landscape: A Dawning New Consciousness Against Politically Engineered Wealth Inequality


The US presidential primary campaign has brought into sharp relief social shifts that have transformed the political landscape and confused ideological allegiances. These shifts reflect a changed consciousness among voters about politically engineered wealth inequality. That voters across the country flatly reject the neoliberal policies that pass for conventional wisdom among both Reaganite Republicans and Clintonite Democrats is a much more important story than calculations of possible delegate counts at national conventions.

These shifts have fractured the Republican social coalition built under Nixon and Reagan between business and social conservatives. In states where Republicans gained majority control in 2010 as a result of the Tea Party vote, legislatures have been moving to restrict social freedoms embraced in the rest of the country. In North Carolina, the state rushed through a bill in the dead of night to prevent local towns creating ordinances protecting the rights of transgender people to use the bathrooms of their choice, and also removed general protections against discrimination on religious and racial grounds. In Georgia, on the other hand, the governor vetoed a similar bill because of pressure from big business groups.

Washington Post correspondent Dana Milbank explains: “Corporate America is traditionally conservative, reluctant to react to social controversy and divisive issues. But as public sentiment shifts dramatically on gay rights and as pro-equality millennials become a large bloc of consumers, business is shedding its reticence. … When the Georgia legislature took up legislation giving religious groups the right to deny services to gay people, corporations by the dozen voiced their objections. Disney and Netflix said they would stop filming in Georgia, and the NFL said the bill would jeopardize Atlanta’s hopes of hosting the Super Bowl.”

By moving further to the right on social issues, a third of the Republican electorate has isolated the pro-business elite, who have now lost control of their party’s apparatus. While the party leadership consistently lowered taxes on the super-rich and its legislators and lobbyists achieved affluence, it delivered nothing but job losses and uncertainty to their working-class white voters. This is what Donald Trump was able to exploit in his demagogic anti-immigrant appeals to the Republican base. According to the Pew Research Center, between 2008 and 2012 “more lower-income and less-educated white voters shifted their allegiance to Republicans. These voters had fled the Democratic Party and were angry at Mr. Obama, whom they believed did not have their interests at heart. But not all of them were deeply conservative; many did not think about politics in ideological terms at all … For many blue-collar Republicans, anger against Mr. Obama now extended to their own party’s leadership, whom they viewed as not only failing to stand up to Mr. Obama, but also as colluding with him to make their lives worse.”

At the same time, the international role of the US has blown back into its political life. Glenn Greenwald argues that when Trump advocates waterboarding for terrorists he is merely stripping away the pretense over what the US has actually done. Tom Engelhardt reflects that while Washington seems unable to function effectively, the so-called war against terror has transformed the public acceptance of domestic surveillance and authoritarian rule to the extent that it has created “something like a new system in the midst of our much-described polarized and paralyzed politics.  The national security state doesn’t seem faintly paralyzed or polarized to me.  Nor does the Pentagon. … In this ‘election’ season, many remain shocked that a leading candidate for the presidency is a demagogue with a visible authoritarian side and what looks like an autocratic bent. All such labels are pinned on Donald Trump, but the new American system that’s been emerging from its chrysalis in these years already has just those tendencies. … a Trumpian world-in-formation has paved the way for him.”

On the Democratic side, the strong showing of the Sanders campaign has brought new social layers into political activism, in opposition to the party establishment and union bureaucracies. The overwhelming and enthusiastic support he has received from millennial youth has a huge significance, according to University of Massachusetts professor Richard Wolff. It means that “a fundamental shift in American politics is underway,” he says.  “The fact that he has done as well as he has done, getting an excess of 40 percent or even closer to half the votes in so many states and winning as many states as he has is an unspeakable change in American politics and will have enormous ramifications for the future.”

He has also energized rank and file trade unionists to buck their leaders’ reflexive support for the candidate most favored by the party establishment. A group calling themselves “Labor for Bernie,” formed last June, have succeeded in helping Sanders win the endorsements of more than 80 union locals and four national unions, including the postal workers, communications workers, and nurses’ unions. Labor Notes reports: “The Food and Commercial Workers came out for Clinton in January. But a month later, Northern California UFCW Local 5, whose 28,000 members work in grocery and food processing, endorsed Sanders. The executive board vote was 30 to 2, according to Mike Henneberry, the local’s director of communications and politics. He said the local hasn’t gotten any pushback from the International. ‘For us, it was not a very difficult decision,’ he said. ‘Compare an individual who’s been supporting workers since he was mayor of Burlington with someone who’s been on the board of Walmart’.”

Similarly, although the leadership of the SEIU service employees’ union have endorsed Hillary Clinton, the largest public sector union in New Hampshire came out for Sanders. Clinton only supports a minimum wage of $12 while the union is campaigning for $15.  “I never thought I would see involvement like there was when Obama ran,” said SEIU Local 1984 vice president Ken Roos. “But people were stopping me in the hall at work, or even in the street—they would say, ‘Bernie’s the man, we gotta go for Bernie.”

The political class is swinging behind Clinton to suppress this movement from below. Sanders’ victories, however large, are ignored by the media, or explained away as only appealing to liberals in predominantly white states. When Sanders won over 70 percent of the primary vote in Washington and Hawaii, and 82 percent in Alaska, CNN described the states as “largely white and rural.” However, a third of Alaska’s population is nonwhite, 15 percent being indigenous Americans, while Hawaii has never had a white majority. The huge turnout for caucuses in Washington state also brought in many nonwhite voters. Sanders press secretary Erika Andiola told Democracy Now: “Bernie’s supporters are very, very pumped up. You know, they’re very excited about going out to caucus. And it’s a lot of young people, it’s a lot of new voters. … [In Yakima county in Washington state] about 45 percent to 50 percent of the community there is Latino—very diverse county. Bernie had a rally there. We had 7,000 people turn out. We ended up winning the county by 75 percent or 76 percent.”

Regardless of who wins the nomination for the Democrats or the Republicans, these social changes and the new anti-plutocratic consciousness among voters of both parties will shape the outcome of the presidential election in November. That will pit the popular result against the entrenched deep party and state systems that Obama was unable to budge and which voters across the spectrum are rejecting.

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Filed under 2016 Election, Bernie Sanders, Democratic primaries, donald trump, Fight for 15, Hillary Clinton, National Security Agency, political analysis, Uncategorized

Trump Resisters A New Force in American Politics, Changing the Message of the Primaries


As the US presidential election gets nearer, the media remains obsessed with Donald Trump. Not because he says anything of importance, but because of the sensationalist aspect of his demagogy and the encouragement of violence by his supporters. These media filters obscure the fact that his support comes only from a small minority of the overall electorate.

The publicity given to the mogul’s statements, however, has created a pushback against his campaign, motivating younger activists to protest his appearances together with people previously not involved in politics who have become disgusted with Trump’s attacks on immigrants and minorities. As Washington Post opinion writer Eugene Robinson commented: “These protests are important because they show that Americans will not take Trump’s outrageous nonsense lying down. The hapless Republican Party may prove powerless to keep him from seizing the nomination, but GOP primary voters are a small and unrepresentative minority — older, whiter and apparently much angrier than the nation as a whole. … Protests show the growing strength of popular opposition to Trump.”

This weekend, thousands protested at Trump Towers in New York City and demonstrators closed roads leading to a Trump rally in Phoenix, Arizona. Student Sierra K. Thomas, who drove three hours to protest an earlier rally in North Carolina, told the Washington Post: “I knew I had to do something. I couldn’t just sit and watch someone who is trying to be our president incite violence. I could not let the progress people have made in learning to love and accept one another go to waste. … If Trump makes it to the Oval Office, I’m afraid of what will happen to this nation. I want to be a teacher after I graduate; what kinds of lessons would children learn from a president who says it’s okay to kill the families of alleged terrorists and to ban people from the country because of their religion?”

Trump’s overarching victories in the primaries reflect the seething dissatisfaction of the Republican base with the party leadership, which it sees as having reneged on its pledges of bringing down Obama and having acquiesced in the eroding of white privilege. But Trump’s rhetoric is totally in line with that of the Republican establishment: even his outrageous “birther” campaign which sought to deny Obama legitimacy through a veiled racist narrative about his birth certificate, simply extended the Republican strategy of denying legitimacy to any Democratic president as part of their efforts to downsize the federal government.

In the Super Tuesday primaries last week Hillary Clinton undoubtedly benefited from portraying herself as the candidate best placed to prevent Trump achieving the presidency. However, this does not necessarily mean support for the establishment; a better indication of the real mood in the country is the political success of racial justice groups in contesting the primaries of prosecutors who failed to conduct timely prosecutions of police who killed unarmed young black men.

Cook County prosecutor Anita Alvarez in Chicago was challenged after video footage was released that showed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald being shot 13 times by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke in 2014. Alvarez fought for a year to prevent the release of the dashcam recording to the public. According to In These Times writer Flint Taylor: “Until charging Van Dyke with murder, she had a disgraceful record of almost never prosecuting Chicago police officers for on-duty violence or perjury. … She has also consistently shown contempt for African-American victims of police torture and wrongful convictions. … After a video was released in December of 2015 showing a police officer shoot another fleeing African-American man, Ronald Johnson, in the back, Alvarez refused to charge the officer and, in a 30 minute presentation, attempted to explain away the shooting.  And more than two months after Chicago police officers shot an unarmed, mentally ill 19-year-old African-American honors student, Quintonio LeGrier, and a 55-year-old female bystander, Bettie Jones, who opened the door for the police, Alvarez has yet to bring charges.”

In Ohio, the Guardian reported, “prosecuting attorney Timothy McGinty was unseated by Michael O’Malley, a former deputy county prosecutor. McGinty last year led a contentious and drawn-out grand jury inquiry into the fatal police shooting of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old African American boy who was playing with a toy gun in a park in November 2014. In December last year, McGinty announced that no charges would be brought against Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann, who shot Tamir within seconds of arriving at the scene in response to a 911 call. Tamir’s family and protesters expressed disgust over the handling of the case by McGinty, who confirmed in December that he had personally recommended to the grand jurors that they not prosecute the officers involved.”

Much of the organizing to unseat Alvarez was led by groups of young African-American activists, such as Black Youth Project 100, Assata’s Daughters and We Charge Genocide. In These Times notes: “These groups and many of their members had previously helped achieve major victories for racial justice in Chicago, including the passage of a bill providing reparations for victims of police torture and, most recently, the planned construction of a Level I trauma center on the city’s south side Hyde Park neighborhood to provide emergency care for victims of gunshot wounds and other life-threatening conditions. Both of those victories were the result of multi-year campaigns and required dogged determination.”

These dogged campaigners and the protesters at Trump’s rallies are linked by the increased sense of enfranchisement among oppressed communities. Bernie Sanders, despite his low polling among older African Americans, is closer to the protesters than Hillary Clinton, who along with Obama condemned both sides for violence at Trump’s rallies. Sanders was the only candidate to confront Trump’s attacks on immigrants directly. In Arizona on Super Tuesday, he gave a speech ignored by Fox News and CNN who preferred to wait for Trump to say something. Sanders said: “We’re a democracy. People have different points of view. But what is not acceptable, no matter what your point of view is, is to throw racist attacks against Mexicans. The reason that Donald Trump will never be elected president is the American people will not accept insults to Mexicans, Muslims or women. … What Trump is about and other demagogues have always been about is scapegoating minorities, turning one group against another group. But we are too smart to fall for that.”

Sanders’ campaign has meant that Clinton has had, at least rhetorically, to condemn factory closures and Wall Street financiers. The New Republic commented: “Trump’s likely nomination gives Sanders a strong incentive to continue in the race—not only to pull Clinton to the left on economic issues, but to argue that her pursuit of well-to-do Republicans is a mistake. This strategy would essentially cede the white working class to Trump, which is risky not only in immediate electoral terms but fraught with danger for the country.”

Even if Clinton wins the Democratic party nomination, Sanders has brought together a diverse and younger group of supporters who are likely to continue campaigning up to and after the election. This is a contrast to the Democratic establishment which has a horror of such unmanageable movements. Despite the media blackout on his campaign, Sanders has inspired a millennial generation with a message that rejects the inevitability of accepting neoliberal limits on the role of government and social programs.

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Filed under 2016 Election, Bernie Sanders, Black Lives Matter, Democratic primaries, donald trump, Hillary Clinton, New York City protests, republican primaries, Uncategorized