Tue Dec 15th, 2009 at 02:09:41 PM EST
The World Socialist Website is in the best Marxist tradition of accurate reporting combined with clear-headedness regarding the historical and economic underpinnings of seemingly fleeting current events. An excellent but flawed example is a recent piece - The Nation and the Obama Doctrine - attacking The Nation magazine, which long ago was a proud little rag ranting against imperialist war and for social democracy. Now it is just another self-important capitulation to `whatever Obama sez', even when he says preemptive war and threatens half a dozen nations with it, as he did last week in Oslo (see ** below). WSWS's Joseph Kishore writes:
There should be no confusion as to the position of the Nation and the privileged upper-middle-class layers for which the magazine speaks, including former radicals and one-time critics of US imperialism. They have moved squarely into the camp of American imperialism. They support Obama's wars in Central Asia and Iraq and, more generally, the efforts of the United States to assert global hegemony.
In the run-up to the 2008 elections, the Nation was among the most enthusiastic supporters of the Obama campaign, presenting his victory as the first stage in a radical reform and revitalization of American democracy. It vouched for Obama's supposedly antiwar credentials.
One year later, the candidate of "change" and "hope" presides over a right-wing administration that is expanding US military aggression while it bails out Wall Street and attacks the jobs and living standards of the working class.
This bowing down to inside-the-Beltway groupthink and the interests of the Democratic Party leadership has been a phenomenon for a couple decades at The Nation and so me and many other leftists haven't bought it or read it religiously in years. But, it's good to see WSWS keeps track of how bad things have gotten (so I don't have to look), in part because The Nation used to matter (and when historical insight calls WSWS is there), it used to represent the "Henry Wallace to George McGovern" (imperfectly) anti-imperialist and otherwise `pinko' side of the Democratic Party.
But that was your parents' Nation; today's version needs to be attacked. Kishore writes:
The "purring" [over Obama] of the Nation comes at a time of growing popular opposition to the Obama administration and its policies. In his speech, Obama himself made reference to the fact that his expansion of war is deeply unpopular, noting the "disconnect between the efforts of those who serve and the ambivalence of the population." He made clear, however, that this "disconnect" will have absolutely no effect on the policy of his government.
So now, because Obama sez to, The Nation backs mass death imperialism overseas and Wall Street and other major corporate contributors' pillage at home. And yet, there is no replacement for The Nation. This despite most Americans' (and the vast majority of Democrats') opposition to U.S. bullying and killing abroad and support for basically progressive social and economic policies. (Yes, there is Counterpunch, but it is and wants to be an outsider publication not representing any sort of wing of the Democrats. Huffington Post is so large and disorderly that it doesn't have a front or editorial page you can point to as `what its position is'.)
Okay, but back to WSWS; I wanna say why the site partly sucks. Here’s why: at the end of nearly every WSWS article – and Kishore’s is no exception - there are several sentences of nonsensical "What Is To Be Done" rah rah crap. A sacrificial cyber-offering to their God Trotsky, I suppose, but I have no inside insight into the why of this end-of-article rite. And I don't mean the following, which follows directly from Marxism and Trotskyism and can't be said often enough:
The unmasking of Obama before the entire world has not in any way lessened the support he receives from the Nation. On the contrary, the coming to power of an African-American president has served as the vehicle for American liberalism, including its supposedly "left" wing, which long ago abandoned any serious reform agenda and rejected class as the basic category of social life in favor of race, gender and other categories of identity politics, to lurch further to the right.
No, I'm talking about the stuff at the very very end of the article. After he writes about The Nation's instinctual purring at the sight or sound of Obama and the growing popular disconnect with Obama and what/who he represents, Kishore continues directly:
What will happen as the "disconnect" turns into anger and opposition? How will the Nation respond? Its greatest concern is the growth of a political movement that breaks free of the Democratic Party. . . .
The evolution of the Nation underscores the fact that a genuine movement against imperialist war must develop in opposition to the defenders of the Obama administration, the Democratic Party and American capitalism.
Oh shit! the same old multiple sweeping generalizations to end another WSWS article. Let's break down what is wrong with the preceding recommendations: YES to "a genuine movement against imperialist war must develop in opposition to the defenders of the Obama administration"; NO to "must develop in opposition to . . . the Democratic Party"; and NO to "must develop in opposition to American capitalism." I think "What Is To Be Done" thinking is critical at this time of a growing enlightenment about and disconnect with the two Wall Street & War Parties, but WSWS gets two out of three of the bare basics wrong with that pap. The "YES" should be obvious but let me briefly explain the two NOs.
The first NO, about opposition the Democratic Party: What analysis shows that social democrats and anti-imperialists can never take over the Democratic Party, or one of the two parties that is generated by the U.S. two-party political system? Social democracy and anti-imperialism are in the real interests of 80% or more of the population, so why can't those people have one of the two big parties for themselves? The Democratic Party is a shell, and any group - whether neocon or Marxist or wtf - with the majority of power within it will control its policies. What this means is that certainly it makes sense (even to committed Trotskyists) that one way to oppose the current leadership of the Democratic Party is within the party through primary challenges. This shouldn't even be an issue, there's nothing to debate unless you feel the Democratic Party has some sort of eternal essence making it impervious to democratic control. Don't say that dumb stuff when it's time to think about "What Is To Be Done?"
The second NO, about opposition to American capitalism. The problem with American capitalism, with any capitalism, is that its interests don't exactly match or at all match the interests of the vast majority of citizens. Capitalism is deeply flawed and socially deviant, but here's the first problem with the WSWS perspective: in the hands of a socially democratic society capitalism will still be around, used as a tool, presumably tightly monitored and politically neutered (but not necessarily in its every instance), to advance the interests of the vast majority. No society has ever functioned without at least small-scale capitalism, including Lenin and Trotsky's Soviet Union. Remember Lenin's thinking about the state needing only to control capitalism's `commanding heights'? Shouldn't these facts teach WSWS something?
The second problem with this WSWS perspective is that it considers `capitalism' a single definable thing, but that's wrong. In fact purely capitalist and socialist forms of industrial organization and power are poles on a continuum across which there is any possible combination of social and private control over economic production. But even the word `continuum' narrows thinking, because there are different and multiple ways to organize people economically that don't even fit along the two dimensions of state or private control of industry. Where, for example, would Yugoslavia's worker self-management organizations fit on the continuum from pure capitalism to pure socialism? Nowhere. More conventionally thinking, didn't German corporations take a step toward socialism when workers were provided real power and votes within German corporations' corporate boards? Uh, yes, even if it was a small one. And did the multiple restrictions on corporate freedom during the post-and-pre-laissez-faire era (roughly the 1930s till the 1970s) create mixed economic systems, with decisively `socialist' influence over some `traditionally capitalist' prerogatives (like the setting of salaries)? Yes. The preceding at least should tell WSWS that it needs to define its `capitalism' and `capitalist system'. It won't find the job easy.
Okay, I realize WSWS has an out in this particular article, that Kishore writes about `American capitalism' and not `capitalism' in general. But no, that's not really an escape hatch, certainly not one WSWS would employ. WSWS has a certain conception of what capitalism means, which it has never explicated, and they're against it, all of it, `American' or otherwise.
Back to the article, continuing directly from above, where things actually get worse. The article's final paragraph (emphasis added):
As the economic crisis intensifies and aggressive war expands, the working class will emerge as the leading political force in the opposition to war and imperialism. The critical task is the construction of a political leadership based on the understanding that imperialist war is rooted in the capitalist system, and that the fight against war must be an international struggle linked to the socialist reorganization of society.
That word "will" is profoundly lame and pathetically sad in the year 2009. In all the years since Marx, Lenin and I suppose Hegel - almost all of them years of failure and reversal of fortune for socialism - hasn't WSWS at least learned there is such a thing as human agency? There is no such thing as inevitability in human affairs, and it turns off leftists and potential leftists to be catatonically lied to again on this matter. You're not fooling or inspiring anyone anymore.
And, as for the final sentence, no again. Imperialist war is rooted in the political systems of the large imperialist countries, which are utterly subordinate to the interests of large capitalist organizations. Change the political system (which (of course) includes the mass communications system) by more or less excluding corporate and money power, and you can have any degree of capitalism in the economic system without the supposedly `required' imperialism. (Making such a change would be (not `will be') very difficult, complex and treacherous, but that's a different matter.)
This stuff is damned obvious and important, and that's what's frustrating. I ask WSWS simply to take seriously, in this important time, "What Is To Be Done." The site does so much else seriously and professionally, particularly its historical analysis and news reporting (and movie reviews!), why can't it bear down with the same realism and specificity - no ritualistic cant allowed - on the most important matter?
By "no ritualistic cant allowed" I'll just add that it shouldn't be critical what Trotsky, Marx or Lenin thought or would've thought on the matters at hand. They were human, the now longstanding class `war' for real social democracy was a very new thing in their times, and there has been much trial and error learning since then (and I hope there will be much more in the future). Keeping our eyes on the prize involves dumping non-essential matters like strict loyalty to any great person's imperfect insights.
If WSWS decides to do the above then it can perhaps be the publication that leads the struggle for a really social democratic society, a task The Nation long ago gave up but perhaps still in its self-importance pretends to do.
** Here Obama threatens Iran, North Korea, Sudan, the Congo, and Burma:
But it is also incumbent upon all of us to insist that nations like Iran and North Korea do not game the system. Those who claim to respect international law cannot avert their eyes when those laws are flouted. Those who care for their own security cannot ignore the danger of an arms race in the Middle East or East Asia. Those who seek peace cannot stand idly by as nations arm themselves for nuclear war.
The same principle applies to those who violate international laws by brutalizing their own people. When there is genocide in Darfur, systematic rape in Congo, repression in Burma -- there must be consequences. Yes, there will be engagement; yes, there will be diplomacy -- but there must be consequences when those things fail.