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Monday, June 11, 2018

Sam Webb: Loose ends in an inceasingly chaotic world

Loose ends in an inceasingly chaotic world

Sam Webb


1. The war danger will grow if the tomorrow's summit fails, and it could fail miserably. For many in Trump's circle, this would be a welcomed end to this example of high stakes diplomacy. After all, it would allow them to make a case to move on to the "fire and fury" option, something that they are chomping at the bit to do, to a president who is intoxicated by visions of U.S. unilateral power and domination to begin with. If that were to happen, the Korean Peninsula, Southeast Asia, and the world would enter a chaotic and deadly period. And only insane and deluded people would want such a denouement.

2. Much of the left distanced itself from the Democratic Party in the 1960s. The reasons lie not only in its insurrectionist disposition, but also its flawed methodology of the two party system. Its accent — or should I say near singular focus — was on the similarities between the two parties of capital to the neglect of important differences at the level of policy as well as social and political composition. In effect, the two parties were rendered essentially the same. But shouldn't truth generally and in this particular instance lie in a concrete analysis in which which differences — bright and unmistakable as well as shades — along with similarities figure in any accounting made and conclusions drawn?

3. The unapologetic and crude racism of Trump has roots that go deep and far back into our nation's development, but, at the same time, it is also inseparable from the rise of the right in the second half of the last century and the election of Barack Obama a decade ago. The election of the first African American president, while uplifting for tens of millions, constituted an existential crisis for a significant section of white people. Their world was turned upside down and their worry was that it could be permanent. In these circumstances, any restraints on their race talk and action were lifted. Facilitating this explosion of unvarnished racist hatred was the whole panoply of right wing amplifiers, ranging from the newly formed Tea Party to right wing talk radio to Fox News to right wing politicians.

Trump, in becoming the spokesperson for the Birther movement in the aftermath of Obama's election, was part of this racist din and, at the same time, gave the country a preview of what his presidency would look like, that is, a cesspool of unrestrained racist invective and policies that endanger the well being and safety of people of color, while at the same time, undermining the rule of law, democratic governance, and people's rights generally. Indeed, if authoritarian rule is in our future, intensified racism will play an outsized role in ushering it in.

It is these dangers that give the elections a profound importance. A Blue Wave won't solve everything — not least racism in its many forms — but it would lift somewhat the Damocles Sword that the country.

4. Just returned from a visit to Chile. Had a wonderful trip, but couldn't help but think that in Chile as well as across Latin America the right is reclaiming power. It wasn't that long ago that an ascendant left on the continent provided welcome relief and hope to people in South American, not to mention the left that was left reeling in the wake of the historic defeat of communist, socialist, and working class movements across much of the globe.

One can lament this recent turn of events in Latin America. It is hard not to. But it should also nudge us to investigate the tectonic shifts on multiple levels that underlie this new political conjuncture as well as to articulate the strategic and tactical adjustments that follow from this new correlation of power.

To be fair, much has been done in this regard. New books and papers have shed light on where we are, how we arrived here, and what is to be done in the face of this new configuration of political and social power. What is more, on a practical level the surge of disparate social constituencies and political movements here and elsewhere in reaction to the rise of the right is evidence that millions have figured out rather quickly what the main strategic challenge is at this moment and for the foreseeable future.

5. Samantha Bee's comment on her show last night about Ivanka Trump was despicable. But it was also plain stupid. I don't buy her apology. She had to know in advance that it would provoke a negative reaction, give the right something to run with, while deflecting from Rosanne's crude and unapologetic racism and Trump's deafening silence of Trump in response to it.

6. Authoritarian rulers like Trump, assisted by his sycophants in the White House, Congress, and media, like to create the impression that they speak for the majority when they, in fact, don't. Keeping this in mind and reminding others of this fact is part of resisting creeping authoritarian rule.

7. It seems that an unintended consequence of the Trump presidency and policies is the accelerated rise of China as a global power. The securing or loss of hegemony on a global level depends, among other things, on state policies and statesmanship of rival powers. Trump and his policies, it strikes me anyway, are weakening the ability of the U.S. to maintain its global hegemony in either the short or long term, while at the same time increasing the danger of war.

8. The 200th birthday of Karl Marx's birthday has triggered much commentary by Marxists and non-Marxist alike. Here's my two cents, informed, I should add, by my experience in the communist movement where we erred in the direction of dogmatism, determinism, wishful thinking, and a slowness in acknowledging new phenomena.

Marxism is relevant and vital to the degree that it changes in the face of changing conditions. It has to eagerly embrace new angles of looking at, thinking about, and reshaping the world. It has to be ready to modify its categories of analysis and struggle, even ditch its received wisdom where reality compels it.

And the reason is simple: Marxist categories of analysis and struggle in the best of circumstances aren't set in stone any more than reality is. Ideally, if I can use that term, they take into account new experience and adjust themselves to new realities, including the emergence of new needs and desires.

In other words, Marxism in its best iteration has no patience for schematic and formulaic thinking that squeezes contingency, contradiction, and novelty out of the process of social development and change. Nor does it have any truck for the repetition of timeless and abstract formulas that are distant from day to day life.

Only such a Marxism can re-imagine and remake the world – not in some sort of utopian way, but in line with the expanding requirements of a good life in the 21st century.

I would only add that Marx and Engels on their best days didn't write in categorical and deterministic language nor did they claim to be the "last word" on any subject. Nor did they allow abstract theoretical constructions determine political policies or action.

Near the end of his life, Engels, in an effort to counter a dogmatic and deterministic interpretation of historical materialism which, they would probably acknowledge that to some degree they had a hand in creating, wrote: "Our conception of history is above all a guide to study … All history must be studied afresh."

On another occasion, he exclaimed, "Communism is not a doctrine but a movement; it proceeds not from principles but from facts."

A decade or so later, Lenin, the leader of the Russian revolution, asserted,

"A Marxist must take cognizance of real life, of the true facts of reality, and not cling to a theory of yesterday, which, like all theories, at best only outlines the main and the general, only comes near to embracing life in all its complexity."

Good advice!

Marxism in the 20th century has much that it can be proud of analytically and practically, but it also has on its ledger serious shortcomings, mistakes, and massive crimes that in part have their origins in a Marxism that on too many occasions lost its critical and self critical capacity. And that isn't Marxist.


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John Case
Harpers Ferry, WV

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