For Anybody Interested
Herein I continue my conversation with Courtney the Marxist Revolutionary, who responded to me after I responded to her, all of which you can read in the past few posts beginning with the one about Barack Obama being black.
Fair warning: it's very long and very dry and I wouldn't encourage anybody to read it who isn't Courtney or me.
Firstly, I'm a revolutionary Marxist activist (a lot to explain) or just radical or revolutionary (or progressive+). I do not sit back. Those who believe they must only pull a lever several times a decade are the ones sitting back. It's a shame that talking about politics is a matter of manners here. I have an Indian professor who told me she is so frustrated because in India when there's a speech or something important, the buses and everywhere are BUZZING. If people discussed things, we would all have a better sense of what's up.
For those of you interested in reading about revolutionary Marxism, I would suggest reading this.
We certainly agree that it would be great if people in this country were better educated/informed about the issues of the day and maybe less educated/informed about, say, Brittney Spears, but I have noticed a lot of chatter about what I consider to be the dominant issues of the day: Iraq, the economy and the election. People are certainly talking about these issues, care about them, and as we’ve seen by the turnout in the primaries on the Democratic side, are passionate enough about them to vote.
While I am aware that India has a vibrant democracy and booming economy, it is probably worth noting “that 10% of the population in that country controls 33% of the wealth,” and “a quarter of the population earns less than the government-specified poverty threshold of $.040/day.” Forty cents a day? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poverty_in_India) Maybe the reason they spend so much talking every day is because, as the expression goes, “talk is cheap.” For forty cents a day, that’s probably all they can afford to do.(If you'd like to read an interesting article about income inequity in India, read this.)
To hold India up as a model of what our nation should look like is kind of a tough sell.
I have gotten this response before. For some reason, you either must buy into the legimacy of electoral politics OR you must be a pessimist and a defeatist. Personally, I believe it is much more depressing to believe that this is as good as it gets and that's it's truly representative. If the Democrats were going to change anything, they would de-fund the war and call for immediate, [or if that word is too scary] very rapid withdrawal of all troops (and contractors) from Iraq. Bush would veto, but everyone realizes it's a disaster and it could be overriden. It's only a matter of containing the disaster and finding out how to maintain our grasp on that geopolitically essential region to imperial domination.
I am certainly not saying that our system is “as good as it gets.” I think there is always room for improvement. In fact, I think there is room for a lot of improvement, particularly in the areas of health care, social policy, corporate power, etc. But that is not the same as throwing up your arms and asking for a governmental mulligan. Our system has survived and largely thrived for over two hundred years, along the way creating the wealthiest and powerful nation in the history of the world. Wealth and power might not be the measure by which you choose to judge a country’s success, but when viewed across the world stage, I would say those wealth and power go pretty far.
Further, what do you mean, “If the Democrats were going to change anything, they would de-fund the war and call for immediate…very rapid withdrawal of all troops…from Iraq?” I mean, I understand what you literally mean, but I suspect that, while many Americans (D and R) would like this, I also suspect it’s not as simple as just pulling the plug on our obligations in Iraq. You will never hear me defend this illegal war: I think it’s an outrage. More than that, I think Bush is guilty of treason, which I discuss here. But just because YOU want something to happen doesn’t mean that’s what SHOULD happen. I’m assuming better minds than yours and mine are trying very hard to figure out a way to extricate ourselves from Iraq within the minimum amount of time and with the minimum loss of life.
We deserve better than the electoral college and super-delegates - both of which are designed to prevent popular control.
Again, I’ll bite –what would that be? What is “popular control?” Because if it is what I think it is – every single issue being voted upon by the public – I don’t want it. I don’t have that kind of time.
Acknowledging the centrality and influence of economic power is not equivalent to conspiracy theory. Obama would not be where he is now, at such a level in our government, without conceding any of his principles and values that would cause trouble. He has a checkered past, but he used to go to pro-Palestian events and was a corporate lawyer, he said he was against the war from the beginning but keeps funding it.
I can’t really speak to this because I don’t which principles you’re talking about. What has he compromised? Are you saying that he should be speaking out more on behalf of the Palestinians? Okay. I’m fine with him if he does that, but he has also been going out of his way to defend a strong Israel. Are those two mutually exclusive? Personally I don’t think so. As for him being a “corporate lawyer,” I guess my question to you is: so what? He was also a community organizer, university professor, and political activist. Aren’t those exactly the job titles you, specifically you, would want a political leader to hold?
[NOTE: Personally I couldn’t confirm that he was a “corporate lawyer.” According to Wikipedia, not always the most reliable source of information I know, this is what Obama did while working for the firm Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland from 1993 to 2002: “Obama worked on cases where the firm represented community organizers, pursued discrimination claims, and on voting rights cases. He also spent time on real estate transactions, filing incorporation papers and defending clients against minor lawsuits. Mostly he drew up briefs, contracts, and other legal documents as a junior associate on legal teams.” Doesn’t sound particularly “corporate” to me.]
As for continuing to fund a war he is against, were I in the Senate, I would probably feel the need to do the same thing. The problem is, we’re there now. He may feel that abruptly defunding the war would cause more harm than good. On that, I think he’s probably right.
When electoral politics is a business and journalism is too, what else does one expect? I ask you to look to any other country in the world to see that the parameters of political debate in this country are so narrow, that people arrange their own expectations around them. If Democrat=Left and Republican=Right, than we surely need a new spectrum.
Why do need a new spectrum? Within the current one are people like you, people like me, and people like Dick Cheney. The spectrum works fine. What it sounds like you want are more parties. That’s fine. They exist. As I’m sure you know, this country has lots of political parties. What most of them don’t have is any power. You can ask yourself, “Is that because they have no money or because their message doesn’t resonate with enough people?” I don’t know, although I suspect that there is room in this country for a third party which combines conservative fiscal policy with liberal social policy. And the parameters of political debate in this country are exactly the same as in any other country. The fact that you and I are debating is proof.
In the marketplace of ideas, the good ones will attract “customers.” The fact that we won’t have a Marxist Revolutionary candidate debating McCain and Obama this year on TV, I think, speaks more to the ideas than to any inherent corruption in our country. As you know, Communism absolutely made some inroads in this country during the early part of the century. But people soured on the idea. Why?
On the whole spectrum, from Fascism to Anarchism, all of our elected representatives are somewhere in the middle.
Obviously. Unless you want Fascists or Anarchists running the country.
People don't know much about politics because it's either made so dull that it would be silly to pay attention, it's preoccupied with inheritance taxes rather than wage increases or people don't have time because they're working constantly and still want some time to be themselves and relax everyday. If we had genuine democracy, the Iraq war would have ended the minute 2/3 of people were against it - we would have had a referendum. If we had genuine democracy, a similar margin could force a politican out of office that was not doing what he promised. Immediate recall is one of the least thinkable principles of socialist (meaning after a working class revolution, which spreads throughout the world and doesn't leave a country like Russia out in the cold, poised to collapse in on itself) democracy is that representatives make the same wage as everyone else and if a majority feels they are being betrayed by their leaders, they can remove them. This means that political oppurtunism doesn't even make sense.
What I think you are suggesting is actually a terrible idea. If you think politicians pander now just imagine what would happen if they had to worry about a referendum throwing them out of office every time they made a decision. How could a government function at all like that? At times, politicians are forced to make unpopular decisions for the greater good. Whether or not you believe this depends on your level of cynicism, but I personally do believe it. And we do have mechanisms in place for removing our leaders from office. One is called impeachment. Also, California has referendums and issued a popular recall to get rid of their governor Gray Davis, which is why we unbelievably can speak of Governor Schwarzenegger (sp?)). It’s just not used much.
As far as your idea that our representatives “make the same wage” as everyone else, I assume this is part of the Marxist Revolutionary philosophy that we should all be making the same amount of money. I would suggest to you that this is total nonsense. While it’s a noble thought that the brain surgeon and the street sweeper should all make the same amount, in a practical sense this simply wouldn’t work. What motive does the brain surgeon have for attending school for all those years when he could just pick up a broom and start picking up trash? Why do anything if there is no incentive? For the common good? In this case, I am the cynical one: if their basic needs are being provided for (Food, clothing, shelter), then I suspect most of them would be happy to put in a few hours a day sweeping the streets rather than devoting themselves to truly difficult endeavors. Why risk if there is no reward?
So if we end up with a nation of street sweepers, won’t there come a time when one of our nation’s leaders looks around and says, “Hey we have too many street sweepers and not enough librarians?” Wouldn’t that leader then begin assigning some of the street sweepers to the library, regardless of whether or not that street sweeper actually wanted to work in the library? Once that begins to happen, where has the freedom gone that you keep promoting?
As for our representatives making the same as the rest of us: this seems arbitrary to me. A US Senator currently makes $165,200. Not chump change by any means, but hardly the windfall you seem to be implying.
"In other words, the Republicans represent the ruling class and the Democrats represent everybody else."
What proof do you have of this? If you look at corporate donations, many smart corporations have switched to supporting Dems to guarantee they will bet on the winning horse, although, the REALLY smart ones bet on both. These corporations are given so many tax breaks and giveaways and won't pay their workers enough to get health care or own homes or get out of debt, that they have unthinkable amounts of money to throw around. They very reasonably (in capitalist logic) give such substantial donations that whoever gets into office gives them tax breaks and giveaways! It's a cruel cycle.
I completely agree with you that corporate influence peddling is a genuine problem and real concern. But I don’t want to paint all political donors in the same broad strokes. Phillip Morris (now the sexily-named “Altria Group”) contributes to politicians. So does the Sierra Club. So does the ALCU. So does my union, SAG. Lots of organizations give. Obviously this is good if you happen to agree with their stand on the issues. Not so good if you don’t.
"To say that the Dems are “’b-team of the ruling class” is
simplistic and contradicts your own statement that they “exist to check
the unbridled disregard for the working class and most of the people in
the world that is the Republican Party.” "
The key word is UNBRIDLED. Republicans will practically say, "Fuck poor people" and "Fuck international cooperation." Democrats won't. They will say absurd, racist and fucked up things like the Iraqis need to pay for what we destroyed and proceed to kill, maim and repress themselves in our place. To claim that one is a party of capitalism and the other is not is to ignore the great amount of continuity between Whigs and Republicans and Democrats throughout the history of the country. "The candidates of the two great parties have accepted their nominations, understandingly and distinctly. And these nominations have not been more distinctly and understandingly accepted than have the platforms; both came from the same bodies, and were presented at the same time, and accepted at the same time. There can be no mistake about it. " -Frederick Douglass
(unfortunately, this tag team dynamic is older than the Democratic party itself)
Of course both Dems and Republicans are capitalists. I never said they weren’t. We have a capitalist system. But there are degrees of capitalism, and the Dems happen to support a degree of capitalism that I can live with: the kind that helps people earn a living wage, receive a good education, and have access to healthcare, whereas I agree with you that, in general, the Republicans do not think the government has any role in ensuring that these things happen.
"Which social movements are you talking about? What have they
diluted and killed? It seems to me that the great social movements of
the past century (women’s rights, Civil Rights, social security, the
environment, etc) have all been championed by Democrats."
"Championed" is wishful thinking. Dems are a capitalist party. They want votes but they wouldn't get the corporate funding needed to be a "legitimate" candidate if they didn't serve corporate interests. So, they pay lip service to movements but ALWAYS make sure they steer movements into the Party fold. For example, our anti-war movement at the moment is shit. It is not independent and so people will make these unfounded and idealistic demands that we "wait and see" and not "rock the boat." NOW didn't call a single protest during Clinton's administration. Gay rights organizations stayed silent when Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act and Don't Act, Don't Tell. Anti-war activists also did little during his "humanitarian interventions." If you put trained killers into a country and give them free reign, nothing good will come of it. Just look at Kosovo or Somalia. I wish to god that campaign promises weren't meaningless, but they're the ones who sign the laws and send the troops, not me.
It sounds like your problem is with the anti-war movement, NOW, gay rights organizations, etc. Nobody is telling these organizations not to protest, not to organize. Nobody is holding them back, certainly not politicians or corporations. If NOW wants to hold a rally, they should hold a rally. If millions want to take to the streets to protest the war or globalization or what have you, they should. And sometimes do.
Did you just say "classism"? These people don't HAPPEN to be wealthy, they are NECESSARILY WEALTHY. Why do you think Kucinich and Nader can't get in debates? It's because laws to get on ballots and the debates require a certain amount of funds that excludes regular people from running. Classism is a concept that I've never understood. If the government serves the interests of capital and capital makes sure there is a small group of owners and a vast group of workers, classism against rich people is the least we can have. We should be contemptuous of them.
First of all, Nader is rich. He’s a multi-millionaire. This came out when he ran in 2000. Kucinich is not. Bill Clinton wasn’t rich when he ran. So this idea that politicians have to be necessarily rich to run is demonstrably false. Yes, the two parties make it hard for other independent candidates to get on nationwide ballots, but I don’t think it’s particularly difficult to run on a local level. You certainly don’t have to be rich, and serving locally is probably the place where it’s easiest to make an immediate difference to your community.
And to say we should “be contemptuous” of the rich is just sad. One of the great joys of this country is that everybody has the opportunity, if they desire, to accumulate wealth. In this nation you do not need to come from money to make money. I am a perfect example: my family was not wealthy, and while I am not rich, I am able to earn a comfortable living doing work that I love because I dedicated myself to it, worked hard and yes, got lucky. Should people be contemptuous of me for that? I hope not. You said I was “funny and clever.” I hope you don’t think I am less funny or less clever because I make a lot of money. As far as redistributing some of my wealth to those who are less fortunate, I do that through taxation and charity.
Hillary doesn't care about women or working people. And if she does, as a politican, she can't act on those things. Just like Obama, a minority politician in a high office must sell out the rest of their brothers and sisters in order to be allowed to kick it with the reps of the bosses.”
What are you basing this on? What evidence do you have to suggest that she doesn’t care about women or working people? I honestly think you’re starting to get silly here. Instead of arguing facts you are arguing people’s intentions, which you can’t possibly know. Obama’s “brothers and sisters?” What are you talking about? Do you mean black people? He sold them out? How? I think, if anything, he’s inspired them.
"And when you say activists bemoan the lack of debate, I have to question what you’re talking about."
I had to step back and see if you actually wrote this. This is a seriously wishful and deluded statement. Debating how we are going to continue the occupation does not count as debate. Debating whether abortion is "tragic" or wrong is not a debate. Debating whether the super rich ought to be given some more money or a lot more money is not a debate. Up until the 70s, the wealth distribution in this country was not like it is today. Literally, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poor - here and everywhere. When most of the country is against the war and yet no one will come out as solidly anti-war and NO ONE (including Obama) will present immediate withdrawal - it has nothing to do with "electability."
Just so you don’t have to step back when I repeat my point, I’ll say it again: we have continual debate in this country about all manner of issues including immediate withdrawal from Iraq, taxation, wealth distribution, etc. Just turn on CNN, MSNBC, or FOX. Listen to the radio. Watch C-Span. People ARE talking about these things, constantly. Maybe too much. If you turn around and say, “Yeah, but you can’t trust the media because they are only serving their corporate masters,” then I would refer you to the internet, to periodicals, or to your friends. People ARE talking about these things at every level of the country. Which is why I question what you are talking about.
Now, perhaps the issues aren’t being framed in the way you would like. That’s different. I’m not sure what you meant by your abortion example. Are you saying abortion isn’t tragic or wrong? That there’s no debate there? Because obviously there is a debate there. Some people think it is tragic and wrong. Some people don’t. They talk about it – that’s a debate. I totally agree with you about wealth distribution in this country, and the only reason I even know what you’re talking about is because I’ve heard other people debating it.
[There’s a whole bunch of stuff about Israel and the Middle East that I skipped over here because I don’t want to get sidetracked on the larger points of this conversation with a mini-debate about Israel. Suffice to say that I agree with Courtney that the Palestinian situation is horrendous, but unlike her, I don’t place the bulk of the blame on the Israelis.]
"Further, I believe that the real reason we invaded Iraq was to make that democracy happen."
For serious? If we wanted Saddam gone, Bush I might have not had the US (during the Gulf War) quash the uprising that would have toppled him.
I wanted to expand on my earlier point that I believe the real reason we invaded Iraq was to make democracy happen. Rereading this, I realized that, without the proper context, it probably sounds a little naïve. Let me be clear; I believe the neocons saw a golden opportunity after 9/11 to do something they’d be longing to do for over a decade – topple Saddam. Why did they want this? Not because Saddam was strong, but because he was weak. I think they believed that, first of all, the Iraqis would welcome the invasion because they wanted to be rid of Saddam. (Nobody disputes Saddam was maniac who needed to be removed from power, but not by us. By his own people.) I think they further believed that establishing a democracy in Iraq would be relatively easy. That, after 35 years under Saddam, the Iraqis would greet us as liberators, and their desire for freedom would trump any sectarian considerations. Once a stable government was put into place, Iraq would serve as a model for other Middle East nations, notably Iran, which I think was always the real target due to their larger size, wealth, and the fact that they are a theocracy. Attacking Iraq, I think, was an attempt to overthrow Iran, as well as to establish democracies in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, etc. Why do they want democracy in the Middle East? Part of it, I think, is for high-minded reasons. They legitimately believe (as I do) in the power of democracy to transform people’s lives for the better. I also think they were looking to strengthen Israel, and have better access to oil. I think oil, however, was pretty far down on the list. I believe this was an ideological war fought for ideological reasons. But they couldn’t just come out and say this because starting an ideological war is illegal.
"Would the country be in the same place today if Al Gore had won the Presidency in 2000?"
If people were willing to put pressure on him and not trade in activism for passivism, then it might be. A President does not magically control everything that happens in a country. JFK escalated the war because he could. He signed the Civil Rights Act because he knew that if he didn't, he would need to use force that would likely only increase the power of the movement.
I’m not really sure what you’re saying here. No, a President doesn’t control the country. He does, however, often set the agenda. Were Al Gore the President, I feel like I can much guarantee the agenda would not have been invading a country that didn’t attack us. As for your point about JFK, your belief is that JFK escalated Vietnam simply because he could? Was he sitting around and decided to send more troops to Vietnam on a whim? As for the Civil Rights Act, I believe it was Lyndon Johnson who signed that in 1964, hence the name “The Civil Rights Act of 1964.”
Your point is that, by signing it, he was attempting to actually undermine the civil rights movement by taking away the threat of violence? This sounds a little bit crazy to me. This piece of legislation, incidentally, also cuts against your argument that politicians only act in their cynical best interest. At the time, JFK was freshly assassinated, and this legislation was supposed to be one of the cornerstones of his legacy. LBJ, from Texas, signed the bill despite misgivings about how it would shift the electoral map. In other words, he knew that by signing the legislation he was going to alienate a huge swatch of the South, sending it to the Republicans. In fact, after signing the Bill, he famously said, “We have lost the South for a generation.” And he was right. So why did he do it? Not to undermine the civil right movement, but to enhance it. He signed it because it was right thing to do.
As long as we look to one person to fix everything, wages will continue to decline, the death penalty will continue to exist (yay, we're the only industrialized nation that uses it!), young Black men will continue to be warehoused in prisons (to prevent them from recreating anything like the Black PAnther Party), abortion rights will continue to disappear, the US will continue to invade, occupy, arm and threaten whoever it wants to.
First of all, you just said that one person doesn’t control the country, so what do you fear from looking to “one person to fix everything?” Second, what is your solution? I know you have said you are a Marxist Revolutionary. What kind of government would you like us to have?
I took this from the Marxist FAQ I referenced earlier, which is the only thing I could provide that gives a hint as to what an actual Marxist Revolutionary government would be like:
“This refers not to some formal democracy on paper - more accurately bourgeois democracy where you are allowed to vote every few years for a committee (parliament) who then run things in the interests of capitalism - but a democracy where we all play a full and active part not just in voting but in actually running our communities, our workplaces, and our society.”
Do you have kids? Because I do. Kids take up a lot of time. As does my job and my other responsibilities. I don’t know that I have time to play a full and active part in running my community, workplace, and my society. You might think I’m being flip here but I’m not. What kind of clap-trap is this? People elect other people specifically so they don’t have to do this shit. Why? Because we don’t want to. I don’t think that’s going to change even in a worker’s revolution. People aren’t going to suddenly wake up and be excited to do water planning for the community. It’s just not going to happen.
"Be the change you want to make."
What does this even mean? I am the change I want to see. I attend countless boring meetings, I read theory and history, I call people up that I don't actually know, I stand on the street and talk to people about politics. Self-activity is the only way. No one is going to legislate us into anything that a human being deserves out of the goodness of their heart. Also, why is there this assumption that we are stuck with this? I can't guarantee a revolution, but I can make sure that I never stop fighting. If you never fight at all, you are allowing the status quo to continue.
I think your attitude is great, and I would encourage you to continue fighting for whatever misguided beliefs you hold.
I would like to thank you for responding. I find it kind of funny that you say my arguments are typical.
I meant typical of a kind of idealist socialist/Marxist/communist/whatever you want to call it. Anybody with a passing knowledge of this philosophy has heard the ideas before. Ultimately, the reason they have so little traction is because the ideas have been tried and they failed, whereas a different idea was tried here and it's been humming along for over two hundred years, providing an incredibly high standard of living (comparatively speaking to most of the rest of the world).
If this were so, I think the country would look a lot different. I'm not against elections. One can vote for whomever, but to invest everything in them doesn't make sense. If movements didn't end around election season (because activists become campaigners and because certain things become taboo - 'We wouldn't want to embarass ______ by bringing up a demand they won't agree to' - it's self-censorship), I wouldn't care. If we didn't have a two-party lock, I would revise my positions. But progress is not going to come from this or that politician. Since it's been 35 years since the last period of sustained struggle, so many have never seen or participated in strikes and meetings and organizations and boycotts and strikes. Our own history is hidden from us and the media is no help. And people get really irrationally defensive of Dems when it comes to having other parties. The argument goes: if people vote for the progressive, the ultra-conservative will win rather than the centrist-conservative. We don't have a LABOR PARTY!!!!! What the hell? I know that other labor parties get coopted, when there is no struggle, bureacracy sets in and people become very settled and comfortable.
If choosing a soda drink were as important as electoral politics is considered, this CHOICE would be equivalent to choosing between Pepsi or Coke. We have choices on things that don't matter.
The choice does matter. Our candidates do have ideological differences on a host of issues. Just do a little research to find out which.
Marx wrote that all models of freedom are modeled on "free" market capitalism. So, it is freedom for Blackwater and KBR and Pepsi and Raytheon. But not for the rest of us. Real choices would be like being able to choose a candidate that is anti-imperialist or demands single-payer health care (neither Clinton nor Obama's plans curb the obscene profits of health insurance and pharmaceuticals - which is exactly why it's expensive!) or demands an immediate exit from Iraq (like not leaving 50 military bases behind, etc).
Maybe you don’t have a candidate that espouses your beliefs, but my guess is, if your views were more popular, then we would have the candidates to give them voice. Popular movements have to be popular. Just because you want something to be so doesn’t mean any of your neighbors will agree with you. They might simply disagree with you and elect people who best reflect their values and opinions.
Thanks again for responding. I get passionate, just as you obviously do. So, I mean nothing personally when I use harsh language or rhetoric. So passionate that I have totally been stopping working (it's without supervision) for however long it takes to type this stuff. I'm like one of those people who want to get through to people so much, I might knock them out or tie them up to do it. (Kidding). I love finding out why people think things and what people believe. I think debate can only be a good thing. I respect you and thank you for responding.
I promise never to post a pamphlet in response to any of your posts!!
Also, I loved your kitty cats post! ;)
Thanks – back atcha.