Same page? Actually, a tiny segment of sectarian Marxist writers - perhaps numbering two - three hundred virtual personalities, are not only on a different page but in an entirely different book.
The issue is not so much ones attitude towards the Obama administration, but ones conception of reality. Where one might charge Webb with “to much reality” and/or an incorrect view of actual political relations between Democrats and Republicans and their relationship with the voters, the sectarian Marxists are well, sectarian and trapped in the reproduction of their own sectarianism. Since the founding of the American communist movement, it has been proven to be impossible to fight the quality called the bourgeois mode of commodity production or capitalism, or “the two party system,” or the administration. It doesn't mater what the administration.
The communist movement grew during periods of social upheaval, fighting on the basis of real issues dear to the hearts and minds of the proletarian masses. This was most certainly true during the period of the fight for unions; then industrial trade unions and the great struggles for Civil Rights, defining the last period of social upheaval. One cannot fight within a social system on the level of the system’s existence. The social system is a quality. The quality is capitalism. The political quality is the government and its ruling party's. Opposing Obama as a bourgeois representative means next to nothing.
If one cannot fight the quality defined as capitalism, then common sense demands that one must fight and deal on the quantitative level, with specific stages of development and locating what is unique and important to the actual phase of the social process one is living. It is useless to charge anyone associated with Marxism for failing to recognize that theAmerican state and government is an instrument of the capitalist class, serves bourgeois property, and Obama is simultaneously the head of state and government as president.
One has to fight on a quantitative level. Not because I say so, but because there is no “other game in town,” except the various fronts of struggle for survival taking place. The unique skills of communists as organizers are need at every front of struggle. For instance, in Detroit a struggle is brewing involving auto workers and retired autoworkers with the state and government, because General Motors and Chrysler are more than less owned by the government. This quantitative level means a struggle over full nationalization of auto is on the agenda. Not as a cure all but as a form of immediate combat where a section of proletarians can discover how to fight for their interest as a class. We can introduce this issue not because it sound clever, but because two of the companies are partially nationalized already. This means new ideas can be injected into society attached to a living social process.
Not because I say so but because the government owns Chrysler and General Motors rather than individual employers. Ford is not on the governments dime so a somewhat different form of struggle is unfolding there, with a massive rejection of the contract last year. The Chrysler and General Motors workers have no contract fight they can reject as such. That is to say, the fight is with the government.
This is an entirely new and different game.
Another such struggle is brewing over national health care. On the quantitative level this means these same workers in Detroit, retired workers at General Motors and Chrysler, recently had their health care package restructured and detached from the company. A VEBA has been established that as it exist is set to run out of money in as little as 36 months. VEBA went into effect January 1, 2010 and out of pocket payments has risen at a monthly rate of roughly 30% for the past two months. When VEBA was sold to the autoworkers its was stated the fund would last roughly 80 years with an annual rate increase of no more than 3%. Health care arises as a material issue in a context where the government owns Chrysler and General Motors. The struggle of these workers for health care is with the government rather than an employer such as is the case with Ford. Unable to get anything from their previous employers 800,000 retired workers are locked on a trajectory of struggle with the government. The demand for National Health Care is not a clever idea but a package that can deliver something to these workers.
The dirty little secret that has recently emerged is that federal law does not require an employer to negotiate over retired workers, although this was never an issue in the past. Today, these retired workers are viewed simply as so much legacy cost and being cut adrift from any connection with capital in the production process.
The same quantitative approach is applied to the Obama administration in real time, as a real fight. That is to say the demand is for full nationalization of auto and a national health care bill or Conyers bill 676. The issue is not the revolutionary quality of Conyers bill but the fact that nothing short of a national care plan offers any relief to hundred of thousands of these workers not old enough for medicare and not ruined enough for medicaid. This demand intersects with virtually every layer of the American labor movement.
Qualitative statements such as “the state is the state of the bourgeoisie,” including all branches of government, is no different from saying “fight capitalism” or “no to all bourgeois candidates.” Slogans are easy to make. Any leftist can do this. Anyone can rant against bourgeois social relations of production and demand the workers only fight out struggle against bourgeois relations or pose the question, “does this struggle lead to overthrowing bourgeois social relations?” Such thinking and outlook is the meaning of sectarianism.
It is not the attack on the Obama administration or Obama personally at question but the lack of a quantitative fight and conception of the moment. For instance the fight for national health care speaks to a real need of masses in real time. This was an important plank in Senator’s Clinton campaign. Naturally, those drawn to this plank cannot accept the bills currently debated in the Senate.
It is not that national health care contains some inherently revolutionary quality. It does not, nor can it because the only truly revolutionary demand of an oppressed class is for its emancipation and demand for the transfer of political power to itself. The issue is posed as the revolutionary struggle for reform - or rather concessions, and pushing the struggle through its actually existing phases. In the process of the unfolding social struggle - for national health care, communists expand their press distribution, recruit and create the forum where new recruits can actually study Lenin’s “State and Revolution” while being trained in a general Marxist outlook.
At this very real quantitative level the real qualitative difference between the lefts and communists versus the fascists - witnessed as a section of the “tea baggers,” becomes clear to all.
Although, my view is different from Webb‘s, he is less wrong than the sectarian Marxists. What distinguishes, educates and clarify is quantitative actions, fused to the actual organization of individuals. 90 years of experience proves that no segment of the proletarian masses can be organized on the basis of "fighting the government," attacking the Obama administration or attacking capitalism. The reason why is not because the masses have an unhealthy love affair with Obama, but rather because the masses of the proletarians do not and did not vote in the first place and could give less than a damn about whoever is in office.
Not everybody is on same page
by Sam Webb
LET ME begin with the obvious: the left (organized and unorganized) has seldom been of one mind. Differences over aims, strategy, tactics, programmatic demands, forms of struggle, etc. have been commonplace.
This moment is no different. In fact, I would argue that two distinct and competing trends have taken shape in the course of the first year of the Obama presidency.
One trend stakes out a left position on every issue, resists compromise, believes that the Democratic Party has no democratic/reform potential, pays little attention to right-wing extremism in its strategic and tactical thinking, and reduces President Obama to nothing but a puppet of Wall Street.
This trend turns criticism of the Obama administration into a measure of one's militancy. The sharper the tone the more legitimate one's left credentials. The main, if not the only, thing holding up far-reaching political and economic reforms, in the eyes of this trend, is the president. Somehow, in this rendition of the political moment, the interaction and struggle between (and within) competing political coalitions/blocs composed of various class and social groupings has no or minimal bearing on the process of change since the 2008 elections. In short, the class struggle in all its complexity is both simplified and invisible.
This same trend "damns with faint praise" the new currents, thinking and initiatives in labor and people's organizations, while it narrowly defines political independence as only electoral formations outside the two-party system. It acts as if militant minorities and moral outrage can reshape the political landscape alone, forgetting that popular majorities in the end make history.
Finally, this trend places an outsize accent on left initiative and unity, but detached from broader forms of unity and struggle.
The other trend on the left argues that the 2008 elections reset the political terrain to the advantage of working people and their allies.
While the Obama administration is not above criticism, this trend believes that criticism should be constructive and unifying, not a test of one's radicalism.
The main role of the left, according to this trend, isn't simply agitational - talking points, sound bites and militant slogans. Political agitation has an important place in class and democratic struggles, but only to the degree that the left is involved in day-to-day struggles in a sustained, practical and non-sectarian way.
In 2008, a broad people's movement was instrumental in electing Obama and a Democratic majority in Congress. Since then, however, it hasn't reached the same level and scale of activity. Without reassembling this coalition, progress will be largely unrealized.
This trend embraces left demands, but it embraces broader demands as well that masses of people are ready to fight for. It doesn't counterpose one against the other. Instead, it sees broader mass demands as a highway that has to be traveled to win more progressive and radical changes.
In a similar vein, compromise isn't a dirty word in this view. Instead, whether and when one makes compromises depends on a very sober estimate of the balance of class and social forces.
This trend understands as well that its task is not only to unite a broad multi-class coalition in the current phase of struggle, but also to assist the working class and its core allies to impress their unmistakable stamp on the struggle for reforms.
Unlike the other trend that shoehorns Obama into a tightly sealed political shell with little or no political potential, this trend believes he has a role, a potentially major one, to play at this juncture of the class struggle.
By the same token, it strongly rejects the notion that the task of the left is to reconfigure the struggle into a contest of the people's movement against President Obama.
This trend supports left unity, but insists that practical involvement with broader movements and coalitions and some rough agreement on strategic orientation among left groups are a necessary condition for such unity.
Finally, an independent, labor-based people's party is a strategic necessity in the view of this trend, but it doesn't see such a formation on the short horizon. In the meantime, it supports struggles for political independence (which take many forms) both within and outside of the Democratic Party.
No individual, organization or social movement on the left fits neatly into one or the other trend outlined above. Life is always more complicated than broad generalizations. Nevertheless, these two trends are taking more definitive form and the future of the left and its place in U.S. politics, in my opinion, hinges on which trend becomes dominant. I think it is obvious where I stand.