Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Danny Rubin's 'Socialism: How?" article


 I have doubts about Danny Rubin's piece as a guide to socialism, or the path towards it. I will try to enumerate and not wander:

1. I think the piece fails to convince the reader of its basic premise: the three stage theory of getting to socialism. And I doubt one can formulate such a theory that has any serious economic -- or political ---  foundation. We have to discard abstractions, especially those of the pre-USSR-collapse era. We must be precise. Let the abstractions, to the extent we need them, emerge out of the concrete challenge -- for example financial reform. What qualitative turns are reflected in any or all of the steps between here an partial or large-scale nationalization? The scope of reform in many areas is wide open to serious proposals in many areas. The "Voker Rules" (breaking up large investment banks, heavily regulating commercial ones) would be a significant hit against the power of the largest banks. But is that a qualitative turn?

2. The attempt to portray the Party's major slogans since Lenin onward as constituting an unbroken, continuous and cumulative thematic unity is also unconvincing. There is some thematic unity in the Party's history -- consisting principally in my view of its commitment to immerse itself in the day to day working class struggle. The working class life was always the communist way of living. However, in hindsight, both "anti-monopoly and "unite against the right" slogans reflected the deep defensiveness of the Party coming out of the repression; They reflect an organization looking for cover. For example, in light of subsequent events, there are many questions that can be raised regarding the policies of the Foster-Gus faction in the CP. It is not at all clear that they served the best interests of the Left or the labor movement in theTaft-Hartley and subsequent McCarthy periods. Its not at all clear that the attack against Earl Browder over his 'liquidatiionist' attempts to 'Americanize' the Party' was itself not a sectarian tendency. It IS clear that much of the loyalty and solidarity extended the Soviet leadership, including its models of Party life, were misplaced. And it's fair to ask: "Did this contribute to languishing nearly 15 years in illegality, with all its consequences for the Left in the US that followed. Was the price paid for that solidarity worth the sacrifice? I can see arguments on more than one side here, but I do not think these questions are settled, nor should they be glossed over. It is difficult to argue that the Soviet model has been of any  value at all in expanding an American base for socialist and communist ideas. Instead it was a constant impediment to participation and acceptance in democratic movements, including the labor movement, in spite of  many stellar grass roots efforts. The fact that communists overcame those impediments on noted occasions is no argument for the models themselves. Danny Rubin is silent on all this, even though he was a partner in all of it.

3. I object to unbalanced characterizations of Gus Hall who, despite a courageous history in both the Steelworkers Organizing Committee and suffering imprisonment in Leavenworth for 8 years for his views, was, in this writers view, not an asset to building a mass political party for socialism, including radical democratic change in the USA, the task before us now. Further, while there is plenty of room for the confessions of error (including from this writer) to go around in the 1991 split following the USSR collapse  ---  Gus Hall carried a big responsibility for making reconciliation difficult or impossible.

One of the things thats so weird, to me, about the 'anti-revisionist' rants rhetoric in some discussions leading up to the CPUSA convention, is that it sounds like some folks would like to return to an era where joining the Communist Party meant assuming some personal risk of jail time; they want to preserve in amber legendary features of some pristine illegal organization. 

In old Vermont machine towns there were always local fabric shops that were notorious reweaving little scraps of dated material subsequently advertised as 'whole cloth', an indirect synonym for "not whole cloth". With respect to Danny's piece, too much of it sounds like its made of 'whole cloth'.