1. My cousin Johnny left this world a few weeks ago. He lost his battle with cancer. I will miss him dearly. It was only in recent years that we reconnected in New Brunswick, Canada where he was living.
Our rendezvous late in life will always hold a special place in my heart. It is always good to see family, but in the case of cousin Johnny, it was one family rebel raised in difficult circumstances connecting with another family rebel similarly raised.
Barely out of high school, Johnny was drafted into the army. He was sent to Fort Dix for basic training, and then to a staging base in Alabama where soldiers were returning from and leaving for Vietnam. But once there he quickly realized that he wanted no part of a bloody and unnecessary war in a distant land, even if the cost of his decision not to serve — to go AWOL and eventually to Canada — was to exile him from his own country of birth and put him at loggerheads with some members of his own family.
In our militarist culture, we go to great lengths to honor those who “serve” to”protect our freedoms.” I have no quarrel with assisting veterans; in fact; we should do it better than we do. The awful trauma of war, we know, exacts a high price in suicides, mental illnesses, addictions, and more, from the men and women who are asked to fight them — not to mention their families that love and support them. But I can’t support the concerted campaign to turn their service into a platform on various venues to cultivate a mindless patriotism, support for interventionist wars, and a militarist foreign policy.
If I’m going to honor anybody, it is, first of all, the peace makers and especially my cousin Johnny and other young men and women like him who choose not to become the executors and fodder in dirty wars where the price paid in blood, treasure, and democratic and human values is steep and unacceptable.
2. Barr’s performance of lying, stonewalling, and misdirection last week in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee should remind us once again that what is stake now and in next year’s elections is, first and foremost, the future of our democracy. In the meantime, Trump in an about face says he opposes Mueller speaking to Congress. I’m not surprised. Mueller’s public testimony has the potential not only to undo Trump’s narrative of complete exoneration, but also to alter the dynamics of any impeachment effort and the elections to his disadvantage. Mueller, unlike Trump or Barr, is seen by a majority of people as an honest and impartial broker of the truth. And Trump understands this well.
3. The long primary season with 20 and counting presidential aspirants for the Democratic nomination could Democrats give a big lift to the struggle to defeat Trump next year. With Congressional Democrats in a day to day grind to hold the Trump administration accountable for its lawlessness and norm breaking, the presidential contenders in a series of nationally televised debates and other public forums will have a unique opportunity to address the everyday problems facing tens of millions and offer an uplifting and unifying vision to the country.
4. In an article in the NYT, House leader Nancy Pelosi urged Democrats not to allow themselves to be “dragged into a protracted impeachment bid,” nor “risk alienating the moderate voters who flocked to the party in 2018 by drifting too far to the left.” “Own the center left, own the mainstream,” she said.
I appreciate Pelosi’s strategic realism. While the ongoing obstruction and lies by Trump, Barr, and all may make it difficult not to be drawn into “a protracted impeachment bid,” the Speaker’s insistence that a center-progressive-left coalition is the only political vector that will take us across the finish line victorious in 2020 is spot on. In these circumstances, the role of progressive and left minded people can’t simply be to up the ante at every turn of the presidential primary, while assailing any candidate who doesn’t sign on to a maximal program. It is, first of all, to find common ground at every stage of the election process and not to lose sight of the overriding imperative of decisively defeating Trump and Congressional Republicans in 2020.
5. The challenge for the eventual presidential nominee of the Democratic Party is formidable. She or he will have to find the prose, poetry, stories, and program to draw together and energize a coalition expansive and diverse enough to resoundingly defeat Trump and Congressional Republicans. No small task. Right now I’m thinking, notwithstanding the polling data that has Biden in a commanding (but early) lead, that Elizabeth Warren or Kamala Harris could be that person.
6. “The surest way of discrediting and damaging a new political idea is to reduce it to absurdity on the pretext of defending it. For every truth if “over done,” if exaggerated, if carried beyond the limits of its applicability can be reduced to absurdity, and, under the conditions mentioned, is bound to become an absurdity.”
This was an observation of Lenin’s nearly a century ago, but it retains, I believe, relevance today. Stretching facts and exaggerating trends that suit one’s political disposition may be understandable, but it is never a good basis for the elaboration of strategy and tactics.
7. Letitia James is doing a great job as New York’s Attorney General. Which makes me wonder if people on the left who didn’t support her are having some second thoughts over their decision now. I couldn’t understand their position back then. It seemed mistaken from so many different angles.
8. I just finished at long last “Eurocommunism and the State.” The book was written roughly four decades ago. Its author was Santiago Carrillo, who was the head of the Communist Party of Spain at the time. Its was an effort to rethink marxism and outline a road to socialism in Spain and the countries of Western Europe. Both Carrillo and his book were greeted by a wave of scathing criticism from much of the communist movement on its publication.
In the U.S. party, which I was a member at the time and long thereafter, we followed suit. Carrillo was ridiculed as an opportunist, a revisionist, anti-Soviet. I accepted that judgement then and it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that I began myself to rethink in a systematic fashion the received wisdom — Marxism Leninism — and practice of the communist movement.
What triggered this turnabout was the world around me changed in ways that were not easily comprehensible to me, given my understandings of theory and politics. Of those changes the biggest was the sudden implosion of the Soviet Union, which was the fountainhead of the socialist world and communist movement.
After the initial shock of this implosion and a bitter internal fight in the party, a fight in which I played a negative role and that resulted in a fatal organizational split in the party, I began to reconsider the theoretical framework, political assumptions, and day to day practice of the party that had decisively shaped my views. I didn’t fall into a quick embrace of Eurocommunism that was in crisis at the time, but I did read some of its literature and appreciated its willingness to critically look at Marxism Leninism (too formulaic and undialectical), Soviet socialism (particularly its democratic deficit), and the nature of the transition to socialism in countries with advanced economies, democratic traditions, and a parliamentary-constitutional political order (non-violent, non-insurrectionist, constitutional-electoral path). But in the course of my less than systematic encounter with Eurocommunism, I never read Carrillo’s book until now. And I’m glad I finally did. I found an interesting and at times incisive read, even if it reminds me that I was quick to dismiss it without reading a single page 40 years ago. There are some lessons here for me anyway.
9. Too many accounts of the Obama years in the White House leave out any appraisal of the formidable power of the right — and its scotched earth policy against the country’s first Black president — and conversely the lack of such power on the other end of the political spectrum.
10. Perhaps this is obvious, but the struggle for socialism is not just a project of the left; it has to be a project whose mass character deepens, deepens again, and deepens still again at every stage in the process. Without such a character, socialism will remain in our imagination or badly deformed. At one time, I thought that the movement or coalition driving the process narrowed as socialism came into sight.
11. Last week it was Venezuela in the bulls eye of the Trump-Bolton-Pompeo war machine. This week it’s Iran. Next week it could be North Korea, even China. To make matters worse, we’re moving into an election season and Trump’s numbers should give him little reason to be optimistic about his re=election chances. This sobering fact could well make a singularly reckless president more reckless, that is, anxious to go to war on the hope that it will bump up his polling numbers and reelection chances. What can we do? The main thing, as I see it, is to remind people in the far flung coalition of people, organizations, and candidates opposing Trump of the disastrous interventions of the U.S. military in the early part of this decade.