Rules of the road

Kasama

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September 01, 2007

Comments

blah

I want to know one revolution that was "self-hating" against its own nationalism. Anyone have an example? I'd love to hear it...

Trying to win a revolution by telling everyone how much their country sucks is not going to cut it.

srogouski

I want to know one revolution that was "self-hating" against its own nationalism. Anyone have an example? I'd love to hear it...

So you're saying Mexicans shouldn't waive American flags?

I'd guess I'd have to name a few "revolutions".

The Bolsheviks didn't waive the flag of the imperial Russian family.

The Jacobins didn't waive the Bourboun Fleur-de-lis.

George Washington didn't waive a Union Jack.

And we all know what flag Robert E. Lee fought under (hint, not the American).

JB

Telling someone their country sucks? Is that the issue?

Or is that the USA is more an empire than a country, and that it's not going to last.

Anyone who thinks the USA will have the same borders in 100 years is deluding themselves. Whatever this is, it won't be here like it was... ever again.

Blah is also kind of missing the point that tens of millions of people who live in the USA (US Americans, ala Miss South Carolina) do not identify deeply with the "heritage" of the Homeland.

Tens of millions... and it's growing more all the time. That we should try and latch onto a fading allegience to a dying empire strikes me as the epitome of dead-ending social movements.

Like the anecdote mentioned above, any fool can hand out American flags and try to get people to chant USA! USA! like they were Ted Nugget fans... but the cry of the crowd was Si Se Puede! And so it shall be.

Me? I was born in the midwest and though I couldn't be from anywhere else, I've traveled, met folks and listened. This regime, and the social system that spawned it like flies breed shit – it's the problem.

And you better believe this is the kind of out-of-touch government that sparks revolutions, whether the crustybutt Korean War-era vets are up for it or not. Once that generation passes, the pat "heritage" of what America was will go down to the worms with them.

Or, put another way... do they even make American flags in this country any more? Every one I've seen for years, including most of the ones I burned was made in China.

JB

Submarino – if guys like you, who've put in time on the Union front lines aren't carrying out that work of changing consciousness (including through the mass/targeted distribution of literature – then we could well go down that same Cold War unionism road... There may be lefties all over the Unions, but after the Battle of Seattle they sure opened up the checkbooks to neoliberalism... and do so to this day.

I think what R.John is getting at in his point about "getting in" isn't the entirely rational intention of migrants to follow the money. Many (and I'm sure you know this) of the folks coming buy the whole package, and many bring their country with them, particularly Mexicans who are largely settling in areas of the country that are... Mexican.

On the big mayday march, I carried a red flag – and I was sad to see how many people marching in "community" contingents, including those organized by ostensible anti-imperialists, who carried no flags whatsoever.

If we can't stand for internationalism on a day like May First... man. I gave away many flags that day, but the most timid people I encountered were leftists who forgot what they stand for, and honestly believed we have to accept the terms we've been given, and that always lead us to defeat.

submarino

R John: "When some immigrants agree to wave the flags -- it is an illusion. When national political forces insist on handing those filthy flags out (and trying to ban mexican flags and spanish chants) it is a political road that is antithetical to what we need."

I agree. The distinction is important.

JB: "I'm just questioning the assumption that communist agitation as such is slogan-mongering (whether Maoist, Trotskyite or anarchist)."

First of all, I didn't say that. That you interpreted my comments that way is a sign of defensiveness on your part, which I'll let slide because I got a little defensive too.

I don't mean to say that all revolutionary agitation or propaganda is mere "slogan-mongering." I don't dismiss people who do that any more than I dismiss people for wearing Che shirts or waving red flags. I'm just saying that it's one thing to have a single conversation with someone in which you point out that their day-to-day suffering is rooted in the global capitalist system, and it's another to do the follow-up work necessary to build an organization capable of fighting both.

I'll admit that in my organizing work I don't talk about the "big picture" nearly as much as I'd like.

Here's an illustrative anecdote:

In the campaign I'm currently working on to organize a non-union hotel, there's a housekeeper from Aguascalientes, Mexico, who is one of the top rank-and-file leaders of the campaign. She has more than enough potential to be a full-time union organizer (and a professional revolutionary, for that matter). But right now she's stuck working two full-time jobs and driving an hour and a half home from work because that's how far she had to go to find a house she could afford to buy for her family. To make things more complicated, she's in the middle of splitting up with her abusive, alcoholic husband. (Incidentally, other union organizers who knew her before I did helped her make this difficult but positive decision.)

All this holds her back from spending as much time as I'd like her to spend on organizing her coworkers. It also tends to limit how much she allows herself to hope for. But not long ago her lowered expectations gave way to open frustration. It turns out her other job is at a union hotel, and since getting active in the campaign to organize her non-union workplace, she was inspired to become a shop steward at her union workplace. So far, so good, right?

Except, as she admitted to me the other day, she's getting discouraged about the conditions at the union hotel. As shop steward, she works hard to make things better, but ultimately it's still a shitty job for her and all her coworkers. She said to me: "how can I fight so hard to organize here at X hotel, when I know first hand that things still aren't going to be good enough even when we have a union"?

Some union organizers might have gotten defensive and tried to sell the union contract, out of fear that they were about to lose the committment of their top rank-and-file leader. But I knew her better than that. I said, "look, the reason things suck at Y hotel is that even though you have a union, you're still working for a company that's trying to make a profit and doesn't give a shit about you. If we keep up the fight, I hope someday we won't have bosses and owners, and the workers themselves will own their own workplaces."

She just smiled at me and said "no sueñes"--"don't dream."

In other words, she agrees that such a world would be desirable, but she doesn't see any reason to believe it's possible. It's my job to inspire her and her coworkers to believe that, despite the fact that they've been fighting to organize a union for over two years with very few visible signs of progress, they can still win if they take stronger and stronger action (up to and including going on strike). If I can convince them of that, I hope I can also convince them (and lots of other workers) that "another world is possible." But there are many steps along the road.

srogouski

of the folks coming buy the whole package, and many bring their country with them, particularly Mexicans who are largely settling in areas of the country that are... Mexican.

And to some extent, this never goes away. The American flag never really seems to be enough for most Americans.

Take my neighborhood in New Jersey.

1.) After Italy won the world cup, Italians flags went up all over the place. Nobody even talks about things like this.

2.) After the terrorist attacks in London in 2005, one of my neighbors put up a Union Jack and an Israeli flag. Any guess as to what his politics are? It later occurred to him that he should put up an Amurrican flag as well and he did. But that Union Jack (supporting Anglo Saxon Imperialism) and that Israeli flag meant more to him.

3.) Some of my relatives still go to German American clubs and have the old Imperial German flag lying around somewhere. Some of these people are fourth, fifth generation Americans. It almost seems as if that identify doesn't mean enough for them.

At the same time, there are people on the left who do seem to have a vision of a "radical American nationalism". For them, the American flag is the flag that the Union Army Marched under to end slavery.

Take this guy in Boston.

LINK

He's

a.) A vet
b.) Part of the Smedly Butler chapter of Vets for Peace
c.) Giving a Communist salute
d.) Giving the Communist salute under an American flag.

Or this very famous piece of art.

LINK

It's a left/patriotic monument and it's always been.

In the end, I think there's definitely a place for a sort of left American nationalism. I don't think all of these people are dupes or misguided or even coopted.

But it shouldn't be the only form of symbolism. You should be able to waive your American flag alongside someone who's waiving a Mexican flag.

Of course that's nothing really new. I grew up with the same thing. But until something else comes along, it's the terrain we operate under.

LINK

srogouski

But to add to that, the idea of liberal patriotism seems more of an upper-middle-class thing now.

When working class white people waive flags, it's more USA USA USA KILL THE RAGHEADS than anything else.

Teenage kids, on the other hand, tend not to care very much about patriotism. Patriotism seems more the thing you fall back into when the rest of your life sucks.

White kids get into hip hop. Some black kids get into the images of the white upper class (Tommy Hilfiger etc.) but very rarely into the symbols of patriotism.

But not of it is transformative.

Will waiving red or black flags do it? How can it? When it does seem to be another form of thing you can buy.

submarino

For the record: I agree that the attitude expressed in the article "Unions help to instill a moral capitalism in the workplace" is bad, bad, bad. (I'm glad this guy doesn't work for my union anymore.)

The trouble is not that the fight for ergonomic chairs wasn't worthwhile--the physical pain that workers live with is a big issue--it's that some people are willing to settle for ergonomic chairs and other aspects of "moral capitalism." A real organizer should use little fights like these not for the sake of patting himself on the back (and later writing useless newspaper columns) but for the sake of further agitation about the roots of the problem, and to show workers that collective action works. ("If we won better chairs with a little bit of organizing, imagine what we can win if we go on strike, or organize the rest of the workers in our industry, or...")

My union is in the midst of a nationwide political education program for hotel housekeepers (union and non-union alike) that begins with "naming the pain" and extends to discussions of how the drive to profit inevitably leads companies to overwork their employees to the point that work-related injuries reach epic proportions. And then we take action to force hotels to lower the housekeepers' daily room quota. These hotel-by-hotel actions are intended to prepare the ground for larger-scale organizing and direct action.

The trouble is not pragmatism per se, it's the tendency to sell oneself short, not to see "mas allá."

submarino

I meant "epidemic proportions" not "epic proportions"--but you get the idea.

JB

Mas allá.

Christopher Day

Calling TrotskyISTS "TrotskyITES" is gratuitously sectarian. They hate it and it has no substantive politiucal content. I know that for most Maoists (and revisionists) its second nature, but its juvenile and people should stop doing it.

srogouski

Calling TrotskyISTS "TrotskyITES" is gratuitously sectarian. They hate it and it has no substantive politiucal content.

I don't think you were referring to me but I honestly didn't know that.

So it's like saying "The Democrat Party".

I can imagine I've accidently offended lots of people.

zerohour

An aside: Apparently TrotskyITE is a denigrating term originating from Stalin. What I don't understand is: how do we know Stalin didn't really say TrotskyISTS? We are relying on a translation here. Is there a difference in Russian? Can someone verify that translation?

JB

-ite = pejorative

Stalin certainly created Trotskyite, whatever the translation issues, as a pejorative.

I've heard it used as: Schactmanite, Pabloite, Newmanite, Kruschevite, etc.

On tangent, -ian was never one of my favs. I have truly never had an interesting conversation with someone engaging in Marxian discourse.

Tomato, tomahto.

zerohour

ian = committed to academic discourse only; using Marx's categories and methodology for analytical purposes only

ist = committed to political practice; willing to test ideas in the real world

Stalinist

What's wrong with throwing around a few prejoratives in certain circumstances? I'm sure "pigs" would prefer to be called "peace officers" and "poverty pimps" would prefer to be called social workers. Not to say that we won't often be on the same sides of the barricades as Trots and social workers, but sometimes man, when you're dealing with some crazy sparticist motherfucker, trotsky-ist doesn't seem like an adequate description.

srogouski

Somehow "Bushist" sounds as pejorative as "Bushite".

I guess "crat" isn't used as a pejorative in the Marxist world.

Republicrat

Trotskycrat

Avakiancrat

Avakianite doesn't seem pejorative. I've never heard Avakianist.

zerohour

Schoolhouse Rock rocks:

TV Funhouse

This only aired once. Now consume...then act!

Christopher Day

When it comes to the Sparts "Trotskyite" doesn't really adequately convey my feelings either. The problem with the term is its tendency to creep into usage in places where it can really be poisonous, like coalition meetings where you are actually voluntarily working with Trotskyists.

Christopher Day

Avakianite is definitely pejorative. Certainly thats my intention if I use it (which I don't).

Mao-ite

Just to be clear, RCP people are not Avakianists (or ites).

if you say so

Sure, if you say so.

You can't join the RCP if you don't accept that BA is the singularity who makes revolution possible. Though you can join if you blather on about his "new synthesis", also known by the rest of the world in the shorthand of "ism" – even if you can't explain what it actually is.

Whether you call that an -ism, an -ite or an -ist, it doesn't really matter. The RCP is less a political party than a Bob Avakian promotion machine. Their basis of unity is not communism, revolutionary or otherwise – it's being willing to carry Bob's baggage.

Chen Duxiu

Does this say something about the irrelevancy of Maoism if the biggest and most well known Mao party is the RCP?

Mao-ite

The hostile tone of most people on the blog toward the RCP is getting tiresome. Step back from the axes that you are grinding and at least have some appreciation for a group that is out there promoting revolution and communism broadly in society.

JB

Does this say something about the irrelevancy of Maoism if the biggest and most well known Mao party is the RCP?

Does it say something about democracy that the largest and most successful "democratic" parties in this country are imperial monstrosities?

Sure. Communists were dealt historic defeats in the first round of attempts to govern. They did not know the terrain they were entering.

It's been literally decades since there was a sustained, popular radical political party that represented any social base beyond microcosms. Larger left-wing parties such as the CPUSA are wide and shallow – more holding pens for people who hold jobs and positions in various social institutions like unions or NGOs.

The RCP is about the largest an organization can be without developing a sustained social base of one kind or another. In other words, they don't pay.

What the RCP really "says" to me is that a few hundred people, well organized, can have a massively outsized influence on national and international politics if they so choose.

For all UFPJ's "thousands" of member organizations – where the hell are they?

Size truly isn't everything.

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