1. GOP took a drubbing last week, and not just in Virginia. Will surely change the dynamics in both parties and obviously weakens Trump and energizes millions who oppose him and his policies. The resistance movement (or, more accurately, the loose, anti-Trump coalition) acquitted itself quite well. Its broad and inclusive appeal to disparate voters paid off up and down the ticket. A similar approach will serve the Democratic Party and the broader democratic coalition well in next year’s elections, especially if the Democrats field able candidates, artfully combine the urgency of economic redress with the politics of equality, and organize a massive turnout of aggrieved voters in city, suburb, and rural areas.
One other takeaway from last week’s elections: the unrelenting ragging on the “neoliberal” Democratic Party and the alleged machinations of its leaders from some on the left is becoming tiresome. If the media’s early pitching of Donna Brazile’s new book left them smug, shrill, and salivating for heads to roll, the results of the elections should, one can only hope, give them pause. Whether they come to the realization, as amply demonstrated a week ago, that only unity of the diverse groupings within the Democratic Party and beyond can bring victory next year is another matter. Much depends on it.
2. If the Republican brand was in trouble last week, this week its troubles reached another order of magnitude.. And while they have many sources — new evidence of Trump campaign’s collusion with the Putin government, Trump’s love affair with the world’s strongmen, and the administration’s use of the state-judicial apparatus to punish the Clintons and other opponents — perhaps the most damaging is the testimony of 5 women coming forward and telling their horrific (but not uncommon) stories of sexual predation and pedophilia at the hands of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore. Tellingly. Trump has been silent on the matter.
Of course, it should be said that the GOP doesn’t have a franchise on sexual predation and violence against women and young girls. It is, as women are telling us, a crisis that is pervasive, cuts across our society, and requires a sustained and many sided response, if it is to be meaningfully addressed. It seems to me that its roots lie in the patriarchal and unequal power relations and structures of gender oppression in every sphere of life as well as the interrelated socialization of men, beginning at an early age, to think of (and thus treat) women as inferior, as objects, as property.
3. Charles Blow in a recent NY Times oped challenged the broadsides against identity politics articulated by too many well-meaning people. A “big tent” appeal that is either blind to the many inequalities that scar the lives of tens of millions or believes that any mention of these inequalities is divisive or, worse still, insists on spotlighting “white worker grievance,” should be resisted. It is a formula for defeat at the polls and anywhere else that people struggle for a better life. The grid of exploitation and oppression is — and has always been — unequal and differentiated. Not everyone occupies the same same position nor enjoys the same opportunities and advantages. Capitalism in general and U.S. capitalism in particular never resided in pure space. At its dawn it was racialized, gendered, and ridden with other oppressions and exploitations. And that has persisted since then. Thus, only by doggedly addressing these savage inequalities and oppressions that structure economic and social relations can a durable and winning unity take shape that is capable of resisting Trump and moving to higher ground.
4. Earlier last week marked the centenary celebration of the Russian Revolution. No question, it was a truly world-historic event. Indeed, in the words of John Reed, the American radical journalist, it “shook the world.” But it did so in conflicting, contradictory, and complex ways.
Thus any evaluation of the October Revolution has to capture the “bad and ugly” as well as the “good” that followed on the heels of this revolt from below. Nor can it be confined to the heady days, months, and years surrounding the seizure of power. It has to embrace with equal attention, if not zeal, socialism’s record over the full length of the 20th century, including the massive crimes of the Stalin period, the long arc of unfreedom that hung over the Soviet Union and other socialist countries, and the meltdown of Soviet power in 1991.
In other words, the severe limitations, broken promises, and unexpected turns as well as the undeniable achievements of the Russian Revolution and 20th century socialism should figure into any evaluation. Neither cherry-picking the “good,” nor scrubbing out unpleasant sides of reality should find a place in our analysis.
Can you imagine a rendering of the American Revolution by someone on the left today that paints this signal event in only bright hues and liberating images? How could any serious accounting elide its awful incompleteness and consequences — in the first place, the crippled opportunities that resulted and still remain for millions of African Americans, Native peoples, and other oppressed people who were forcibly and systematically denied equality, dignity, and full citizenship as well as the fruits of their labor and land rights?
Nor could any serious analysis fail to mention that these monumental failures of 1776 hamstrung in innumerable ways the overall progressive thrust of the country from then to now? It may not be a straight line, but the threads connecting “the sins of 76” to our present predicament aren’t so difficult to discern.
One final thought: When it comes to evaluating socialist revolutions, we would do well to recall the words of Karl Marx:
“… proletarian revolutions, like those of the nineteenth century, constantly criticize themselves, constantly interrupt themselves in their own course, return to the apparently accomplished, in order to begin anew; they deride with cruel thoroughness the half-measures, weaknesses, and paltriness of their first attempts …” (18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte)
Much time has passed and much water has flowed under the dam since these words were penned, but for me anyway — and more now than when I was younger — his words resonate strongly.
5. Speaking of the Russian Revolution, it is easy to find a Lenin that suits one’s political disposition. After all, he was a prolific writer, wrote in many different contexts, and drew a broad range of conclusions.
I prefer the Lenin who insisted on an exact estimate of the balance of forces and utmost tactical flexibility; the politician who was quick to modify his thinking in the face of new realities and experience; the realist who didn’t allow subjective desires and wishful thinking to overwhelm his theoretical and practical sense; the revolutionary who was suspicious of the inevitable, the uninterrupted, and the irreversible; the theorist who considered general principles and abstract concepts no more than a point of departure in any attempt to comprehend reality; the creative thinker who theorized the intersection of the class struggle and the struggle for equality and democracy; the consummate politician who took advantage of divisions in the capitalist camp, resisted spelling revolution with a capital R in every situation, and understood that transformational changes take more than the will, militancy, and initiative of a leading group; the internationalist who was forever mindful of the linkages of people’s struggles in near and far flung parts of the world; and the communist who envisioned a socialism, in which working and oppressed peoples are in the driver’s seat and the wellsprings of democracy open up in all directions.
This Lenin, however, put me at loggerheads with more than a few Marxist Leninists in the Communist Party when I was its chairperson. In fact, when I suggested that we retire Marxism Leninism for a more open, more curious, more dialectical, and more critical marxism, it met so much resistance that I withdrew the proposal. Which I probably should have anticipated. After all, even Antonio Gramsci, the great Italian Marxist theorist and communist leader who died in Mussolini’s prison, had no place in the party in my nearly 50 years. His books were printed, but his ideas, not neatly fitting into our rigid Marxist Leninist worldview, went unmentioned.