Tuesday, August 26, 2008

PA Gets Broader and Better In the 21st Century

by Norman Markowitz

Now for the final installment of our PA retrospective, as we struggle against the "back to the future" policies of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld administration/autocracy/ cabal/ imperialist war machine (and those are some of the milder comments that one can make about them).

The CPUSA's evaluation was that the ultra-right was in decline after its impeachment debacle in 1998. And this was accurate, or as they said generations ago before the New Left turned it into a joke and the not so new Right picked it up as a put down, "politically correct." But reactionary forces are often most dangerous, more likely to launch political coups, when they are losing mass support. In Germany for example, the Nazi party vote actually dropped in late 1932 and the Communist vote increased before the German ruling class brokered a deal brought Hitler initially to power. In Chile, President Salvador Allende's Popular Unity Coalition had significantly increased its vote in off year congressional elections, which became a major reason for the U.S. supported fascist coup against the Allende government.

Al Gore was the Democratic candidate in 2000 and ran a campaign which did not in significant ways deviate from the Clinton policies (Gore had been a conspicuous NAFT supporter in 1994). George Bush, son of the former President and rightwing governor of Texas, ran a campaign de-emphasizing his rightwing record in Texas, portraying himself as a "compassionate conservative," as he mixed traditional pro business Republican boiler plate rhetoric with folksy personal appeals in the Clinton tradition. Ralph Nader was the Green party candidate, campaigning on the issues as a militant pro labor, pro environment progressive.

I supported Ralph Nader, wrote articles for his campaign which were reposted on the internet on pro Nader websites and as an individual campaigned for him. The CPUSA of course didn't support this course on any level. But the CPUSA doesn't formally endorse candidates and I took the position that I under the principles of Democratic centralism had the right to support Nader if there was no formal endorsement. This was wholly accepted and, while there was private friendly criticism from comrades (friendlier and less extensive than the criticisms I received from friends who are liberal Democrats) I did not experience anything personally negative from these actions from anyone in the CPUSA.

I write this for two reasons. The first because it should show everyone that the CPUSA is a party which accepts political differences on issues among its members and operates on a comradely and fraternal level toward its members, not on the bureaucratic "command" policies and purges that anti-Communists assert over and over again, regardless of the facts.

My second reason is to admit as I have for years now that this was the worst mistake I made of any vote that I cast in all of the elections that I have voted in since I was old enough to vote (the 1965 New York mayoralty election). The nearly three million Nader votes made it possible for The Bush campaign to steal the election by stealing Florida. Had Nader not run, I and no one else have any doubt that the majority of his votes would have gone to Gore and virtually none to Bush. In New Hampshire, this would have given Gore the state and the presidency without the Florida struggle. In Florida, the nearly 100,000 Nader votes would have made it impossible for the Florida Republicans to initiate the outrages which prevented a full recount and gave Bush the presidency. The Democrats made many mistakes in these battles and then refused to seriously challenge the Supreme Court's unprecedented and indefensible decision on behalf of Bush. But Ralph Nader and those like me who voted for him should accept some of the blame for the disasters that were to follow. Not to see this, not to grasp the specific far reaching disasters of the Bush administration and to assert dogmatically that it would have all been the same under Gore because the Democrats are no different than the Republicans in class terms is to enter into the hermetically sealed world of political sectarianism.

Although Bush had lost the popular vote by 500,000 and gained the presidency only because a 5-4 Supreme Court vote ended the Florida recount, his administration acted as if it had a huge mandate. From the beginning "compassionate conservatism" was transformed into a virulent revival of the worst of the Reagan reactionary policies a revival and expansion of what Gus Hall in 1984 had called "a whiff of fascism."

The anti-democratic nature of the administration, even by the most conservative definitions of representative government, was visible from the beginning. Through U.S. history, Vice Presidential candidates have been chosen to "balance" tickets based on regional representation and sometimes different factions of parties. Dick Cheney, a former presidential aid, Wyoming Congressman and Secretary of Defense in the George HW Bush administration, was the CE0 of the Texas based military industrial complex corporation, Halliburton, with all sorts of Middle East connections. When George W Bush choose him as a running mate.

Two Texas residents on the same ticket were unprecedented. Nor was Cheney in any way an attractive candidate for mass media. Rather his function in the campaign was to be the rightwing "bad cop" of the ticket as against Bush's "compassionate conservative" good cop. In the new administration, Cheney moved rapidly with either the support or the indifference of the President, to develop a White House based shadow organization to supersede on foreign policy questions especially traditional departments of government. In this his ally or co-conspirator was Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, with whom Cheney had worked and been closely allied since they were aides in the Ford administration acting to undermine the Kissinger "d├ętente" policy toward the Soviet Union in the mid 1970s.

So –called "neo conservative" policy planners, who had come together on a cold war revival platform in the 1970s, flourished in the Reagan years, then declined under George HW Bush only to be largely frozen out of direct power under Clinton, were now more influential then they had been in the Reagan years, both shaping White House policy and funneling false intelligence data to buttress policy. With Rumsfeld's support, traditional Defense Department sub-agencies were either told to follow the policy line or ignored when they didn't. The CIA leadership at best was manipulated into supporting outrageous falsehoods internally for policy purposes (they had always of course used such falsehoods externally for propaganda purposes). All of this was well under way before the September 11 attacks, which became for the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld administration what the Reichstag fire was for Hitler, a crisis used to foment hysteria and force through their policies.

I am not saying that the administration was behind the attacks or that it created an open terroristic dictatorship, a fascist regime, so the analogy to the Reichstag Fire is meant to be taken loosely. The September 11 attacks enabled the administration to push through the "Patriot Act" which gave the president the power to direct warrantless searches and seizures, indefinite imprisonment without habeas corpus, and other traditional aspects of open dictatorship. The attacks also provided the basis for the administration proclaim a "war on terrorism" and double military spending over the next seven years, giving the Military Industrial Complex an open-ended substitute for the cold war, since a "war against terrorism" is a not a "war" against a specific country or alliance system or even a "war" against revolutionary movements in various places, but a "war against what is essentially a tactic which is and can be used by small groups or groups of any size representing anything at any time anywhere in the world.

PA was both changing itself and alerting its readers to the dangers of the administration before the September 11 attacks. In the June, 2001 issue, the central theme was the battle for the press and the administration campaign to repress left media. The cover showed liberty in bondage to Wall Street against the caption "free the press." The cover also contained the ad "Coming Soon….www. Political Affairs.net.

The stories dealt with the attack on free speech that the administration had begun to intensify. First an editorial condemned an FBI court order demanding that the Seattle Independent Media Center turn over all "user connection logs" to the FBI for the dates April 21 and April 22(aimed it gathering information against anti-globalization protect groups for future attacks) and also an accompanying "gag order" baring IMC workers from publicizing the warrant in an effort to defend themselves.

Matt Dimick had a fine albeit not so grammatical article "First Amendment Shakedown: Free Speech for Who [sic] which analyzed conservative Supreme Court decisions elevating commercial speech over political speech and the failure of the ACLU, the nation's best known civil liberties defense group, to distinguish between the two, thus making its role ineffective. There were other articles, including Terrie Albano's pre convention discussion article on the importance of Communist media and an article by Roy Rydell, "Free the Charleston Five" , on South Carolina's brutal arrest of five members of an International Longshoreman's Association local. The incident, which was covered up in mainstream media, was a scene out of the pre 1930s labor history. When local 1422 members picketed a Danish ship using scab labor, an army of 600 police, using helicopters and police dogs, viciously attacked the pickets, targeting especially union leader Ken Riley. The issue, unlike earlier PA issues, had many photographs both historical and contemporary. This was to become the norm in subsequent PA issues.

PA also greatly expanded its scope, with more book reviews on a variety of issues, a poetry section, even interviews with non Communist left and progressive people. There were more historical articles on CPUSA and other leaders and events. As a contributing editor, a wrote a number of these articles and in 2003 took over a new feature, "Marxist IQ" which was to become very popular with readers(even though some occasionally took issue with my right answers).
In 2003, also, PA for the first time took on a conventional "glossy" magazine cover, with outstanding cover drawings that were and have been often head and shoulders above the heavily financed "mainstream " magazines.

Some felt that PA was moving away from its role as the "theoretical" journal of the CPUSA. I didn't. I saw the new PA as combining a lot of the old New Masses of the 1930s and the accessible writing on contemporary political issues that also characterized CPUSA publications in that period. It also contained theoretical articles which were usually more engaged than earlier ones, which, in all honesty, were most often statements of CPUSA leaders and leaders of other Communist parties restating Communist positions on a variety of major issues (informative and very valuable, especially in the U.S. where such positions were either omitted or often crudely distorted) but not raising major theoretical questions in a way that would engage readers who were not already supporters of Marxism-Leninism. The "new" PA fitted the time perfectly and could much more than hold its own against a wide variety of broad left publications which, whatever their strengths, lacked its focus and insights.

In this development, Joel Wendland, first as managing editor, editor of the online edition, and now is editor, played an indispensible role, as a writer, editor of others writing, broadcaster (when PA began to podcast) and interviewer. In the February, 2003 issue (PA now began to devote issues to specific themes and February, "Black History Month" dealt with the struggle against racism and for African-American liberation) Wendland had a fine article: "Worlds Apart: An essay on the sources of Global Inequality" which dealt with racism's role in the contemporary capitalist world.

The interviews and the exciting and centered diversity continued. This was not diversity for diversity's sake, as it would be in liberal journals (something left opponents of the CPUSA don't understand) but diversity with political purposes, striking similar themes in different ways, broadening consciousness instead of deadening it with repetition.

While 2004 issues were filled with mobilizing against the Bush re-election campaign, the June issue had international and historical articles that helped readers understand where this administration had come from and was going. Wadi'h Halabi "Wal-mart Workers of the World Unite" on the "Walmartization" of labor born in capitalist crisis and the escalating resistance of workers everywhere. David Eisenhower's "Empire of Oil" related the Bush invasion of Iraq directly to the drive to control oil. Anna Bates also had a fine historical article "Axis for Progress" on the Kennedy administration attempt to both defeat any extension of the Cuban revolution and consolidate capitalist development and corporate power in Latin America through the 1960s "alliance for progress."

There were reviews of books dealing with the hidden history of the 9/11 attacks, biotechnology, the environmental crisis and a poem by Michael Shepler which had intimations of Langston Hughes and Allen Ginsberg, "Iraq, 2003; Mars, 2004."

Also there were major interviews with Doug Henwood on economic policy and Rahul Mahajan of Peace Action on Regime Change, leaders of the broad left. Photographs were very useful and multi-media collages were sometimes brilliant.

The July, 2004 issue was centered on sports and capitalism, with wonderful interview with old Daily Worker sports columnist Lester Rodney (who played an important role in the struggle to integrate baseball) an interview with basketball star Toni Smith and an article by me "Stepping up to the Plate: How the Reds Helped to Integrate Baseball." PA contributing Editor Gerald Horne had a fine analytical article on the potential dangers of fascism in and around the Bush administration.

It would be impossible to deal with the relevance, richness and centered diversity of PA over the last four years, as its online edition took off to reach tens of thousands of readers monthly and its internet articles were reposted and commented on many websites through the world More and more accessible book reviews, organized by review editor, philosopher, and frequent contributor Tom Riggins graced the publication. Articles on rap or hip hop (a music genre which I confess to be largely unsympathetic to) appeared in PA, helping me to modify my dogmatic opposition to the music.

So, let me conclude these forays into Pay's history by looking at some of the remarkable covers.
The August, 2005 issue "Labor vs. Globalization" had a cover of third world women garment workers which reminded me of the sad lonely faces on Edward Hopper depression paintings. February 2006, highlighting the "intelligent design issue under the heading "war on reason, had a cover of a priest pulling up his tunic and holding his heart as he talked to a female scientist pointing to a skull. The September-October, 2006 issue had too masked "superheroes" down on their luck at a bar as one said to the other "so what's your super power. The other replied, "Surviving on the minimum wage."

The November issue, "Election 2006: Doomsday for the GOP Agenda" portrayed a Republican elephant with a suit and tie and a crown on his head, wringing his hands in graveyard as a bird with(to me) seemed to be cross between an American Eagle and vulture said, "end of the line buddy."

The December 2006 issue highlighting "Crooks xR US, How the GOP played Medicare Seniors" had a devil offering a subscription to a senior citizen (the GOP "reform" prescription drugs) as a sinister salesman tells the senior, "no worries friend. If you can't afford the meds we have other forms of payment."

The best cover from 2007 (and there were many excellent ones) showed a smiling Barack Obama in bade with a big bad wolf as a Republican Little Red Riding Hood stood by." The Caption, Whose Afraid of Barck Obama was also the title of a fine analytical article by PA editor Joe Sims, which pointed to the historic importance of Obama's candidacy at a time that establishment media were largely belittling on ignoring it and concluded with these prophetic words" Who's afraid of Barack Obama? Why, all of them are."

The last issue that I will look at is the April-May, 2008 issue. The cover shows an old Uncle Sam holding a crumbling country with broken houses and oil cans in his hands. The cover article, "Things Fall Apart, Wall Street and the Decline of U.S. imperialism" by Joe Sims and Joel Wendlend, deals empirically with the scope of the present moment in the capitalist crisis. But there are many other articles that capture the "new" PA. David Scondras and Gary Dotterman have clear and very valuable article on AIDS prevention, "Ending AIDS: Yes We Can," dealing with what can and must be done to fight the health menace that the Bush administration has refused to seriously fight with preventive health care programs Anna Bates has a valuable historical article "Women Peace Activists and the Cold War. Eric Green's article "A New Moment in Film and Music" connect progressive U.S. and international work in both of these genres, ranging from an Iranian animated film Persepolis dealing intelligently with post WWII Iranian history to new technology duets in music (Natalie Cole singing a duet with her late father, Nat King Cole of his classic, Unforgettable) to Michael Moore's Sicko on U.S. health care and Charles Ferguson's and Audrey Marr' No End in Sight on the Iraq occupation.

And there was a serious and nuanced theoretical article by Marxist physicist-philosopher-activist Erwin Marquit, "Overcoming Unscientific concepts of working class" which sought to adjust traditional definitions of the working class to new realities in a Marxist framework. The article was part of the problems of Marxism feature of PA which seeks to explore important theoretical questions. There was also an interview with CPUSA leader Jarvis Tyner on "The legacy of Henry Winston, a commentary piece by Gregory Esteven "Homelessness, Hurricanes and Race" which connected in the Marxist tradition empirical evidence on Hurricanes Katrina and Rita with an understanding of what this means to the class-race dialectic of U.S. society. Gerald Horne had a short analytical article, "Africa looks East" on the development of Chinese African relations and I had an article, "The Real John McCain," dealing with McCain's real background as a militarist and stalwart of the Republican right as against the myths manufactured around him. There are also a few fascinating book reviews, and Lost and Found Man," a moving poem by Jim Finnegan about the sick and homeless people we see and don't see.

Finally, the back cover of the issue shows someone running from a bayonet as it reads, "Americans Don't Trade With Death Squads" and calls upon readers to protest the Bush administration's Columbia Free Trade Agreement.

The issue breathes. Political understand and activism on every page and in every picture. As the print edition of PA ends this year, the online edition will hopefully expand upon the strengths and achievement of this people's journal quantitatively and qualitatively as it reaches many new readers.