Friday, February 12, 2010

Two And A Half Camp


by David A. Hacker

The late James T. Burnett was the chair of the Young Peoples'Socialist League and he was also an activist in the 1964 Berkeley Free Speech Movement. Burnett was a National Committee member of both the orginal Socialist Party, USA and Social Democrats, USA. Jim was a mentor to many of us in the revived SD. Burnett was the editor of the "Appeal to Reason", named after the famous socialist newspaper in the early decades of the 20th Century. The Burnett's paper was published by the SD Local in San Francisco, beginning in 1974. It became an independent publication in 1982. Burnett was one of the first voices to support a reunification of the democratic socialist movement. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Burnett wrote the following statement that I believe is still the best declaration concerning the issue of the relevancy of the concept of socialism in today’s society and expresses where the revived SD,USA stands on this crucial issue and on the general orientation of our approach toward foreign policy issues:

"1. The Relevance of Socialism

The conventional wisdom these days is that the collapse of the Soviet empire represents the demise of Socialism. This is ridiculous. We never believed the identification of Stalinist totalitarianism with socialism during all of the decades when proclaimed by both Stalinists and right-wing reactionaries. Why should we believe it now?  We should reclaim the socialist ideal-- a just society, a society not based on invidiousness and narrow-minded "individualism". This is not the time for us to become traitors and cowards. The basis of Socialism  -- communism in its unfalsifiable sense -- remains as valid, even more valid, than ever. We want and need a society of collective justice where everyone gets food, shelter, health care, education, and the ability to actualize his or herself. Why not? We're civilized, aren't we? We will win our most valuable support by asserting an ideal, not by ambiguity and misdirected "moderation". We need a cadre before we can aspire to mass influence and few people of character or  intelligence have ever been able to get excited about moderation. I want to make a point about symbols. This is hardly something that would be taken up in an official document, but is important socially, I do not think we should give up the word "socialist, the term "comrade", the red flag, or the Internationale. They are symbols of a commitment and a brotherhood and sisterhood that is invaluable. There is no such thing as "only" a symbol. Our era has seen many outstanding champions of equity and freedom not the least have been Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Karl Kautsky, Rosa Luxemburg, Julius Martov, Eugene V. Debs, Norman Thomas, Max Shachtaman, A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, Michael Harrington, and the students of Tienanmen Square. I stand in their tradition".

2. Foreign Policy

“The collapse of the so-called “Communism” is both a victory and a challenge. It is a victory insofar as it removes (although not completely so far) a hateful and reactionary system that, worst of all, paraded under the name of socialism. Long ago, Max Shachtman, pointed out that if Stalinism was indeed a kind of socialism, then all of the worst criticisms that the enemies of socialism had ever made were true, and a thousand times over.

How things will settle down in the world is impossible to tell. Who could have told just a year ago how things would be now? Theory is not fortune-telling. It is a set of principles that can be used to guide action under probable conditions.

The idea that the end of the Soviet empire represents the triumph of capitalism is lunacy – understandable lunacy, but lunacy nonetheless. It is like a hangover. Sooner or later it will go away, probably sooner than later as the peoples of Eastern Europe find out what the so-called free market really means. We should call for what was valid in the basically-flawed communist ideal while inviting the “capitalist” reforms that are in the interest of the people. If we do not do so, others will. They already are.

a, The Importance of the Socialist International and SD,USA’s Membership in that Organization

“The Socialist International is a major organization in which people of our political tendency have exercised surprising political influence in spite of our ridiculously small numbers. This organization represents millions of workers and other people throughout the world. It is, in fact, the largest voluntary organization on the planet. We should be proud that our political comrades were the first to begin a mass-membership international group. Within the International, our main efforts should be:

-To oppose any remnants of romantic attraction to terrorist and totalitarian causes.

-To maintain the democratic socialist ideal.

-To encourage all possible aid to the emerging free labor and social-democratic movements in the former Stalinist countries and the developing world.

-To resolve trade and other economic conflicts on the basis of international labor solidarity.

-To promote greater international cooperation toward the ultimate aim of a world government under world law.

Above all, we should be proud to be members of the Socialist International and strive to maintain and expand our influence in it. We should propose that the document, “Aims and Tasks of Democratic Socialism” that was the basis for the re-foundation of the International at the end of World War II, be reviewed to meet the changing realities of the last half century, while retaining its fundamental values and emphases. {Since Burnett wrote this in 1992, the SI has revised this document.} It should become the basic statement of purpose of international social democracy/democratic socialism in the late twentieth century and now in the early twenty first century. We are entering an era where, with astute leadership, the lines of our anthem could become true: ‘The international working class shall free the human race.’ I even think that the words of the French original will come true: ‘L Internationale serait la genre humaine.’ {The provisional NC
of the revived SD,USA has voted to adopt the ten principles of the Party of European Socialism.}

b, How we view the role that the United States plays in the World

America is not the unique ill-doer in the world. Hardly anything, other than the direct sight of injustice in my own society, infuriates me more than the notion that all of the problems of the world can be blamed on the United States. The US has been guilty of enough crimes. Chief among them are our genocidal campaign against Native Americans, the enslavement of Africans and generations of unspeakable mistreatment of their descendents, our imperialist relations with Mexico. And this is just to name a few.

The United States has also been a friend of freedom. Without the US war effort, the world could probably not have defeated fascism. We condoned slavery, but we also overcame it, at the cost of much blood. We rebuilt Western Europe through the Marshall Plan. It is true that we had ulterior motives – stopping Communism –but who demands pure motives in the real world? Good motives are good enough. Could anybody really say that the US wanted to make Japan and Europe into its most formidable economic rivals now? No, we had altruistic motives as well.

At the same time, this does not mean that anything any American Administration does is OK. This is especially true now that the overriding concern about the ‘evil empire’ is gone. Incidentally, one of the greatest lessons of the post-cold-war period is that the two exploitative class societies can no longer use one another as excuses for their misdeeds. The eclipse of Stalinism represents a profound crisis for capitalism – a point too little recognized. The relationship between capitalism and the pseudo-socialist despotism and their mutual co-existence and their mutual termination are very important topics to be analyzed.

Another - actually the same – theme that requires consideration is epitomized by a remark made by a modern social democrat decades ago when he quoted a British Fabian to the effect that the French Reign of Terror and Napoleon had set back reform in England for a hundred years and opined that Soviet “socialism” had at least as reactionary effect in our times. I do not agree about the historic role of the French Revolution, but I do about the subsequent analogy."

Today, we can add to Burnett’s statement the new threat of totalitarian Islamism exemplified by the September 11, 2001 attack by Al Qaeda on the United States. We believe that only the development of a true democratic foreign policy for the United States can defeat terrorism. In fact, we advocate not merely containing international terrorism, but eliminating it at its roots. However, we maintain that it will only be a government that espouses the values of democratic socialism and the wider Democratic Left that can do this. We have seen the failure of the preceding right-wing American administration, which included some of our own former comrades, who have become neoconservatives ideologues, in their attempts to diminish and combat this threat. In fact, many of their own actions in the world have served as a recruiting call for totalitarian Islamism.

Specifically, the war on Iraq is an issue that invited dissent and I believe has critically harmed the effort against totalitarian Islamism (which should not be confused with the actual tenets of Islam.) This does not mean dissent about Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship and malevolent intents, but about the appropriate means of dealing with him. To say that the “only correct” approach was military intervention or economic sanctions are equally simplistic. However, the facts are that the sanctions were working and the Administrations rational for going to war has been proven false. The initial justifiable NATO conflict against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan was neglected, with the effect that the totalitarian Islamists are gaining a resurgence in that embattled country. In the meantime, there has been the loss of hundred of thousands of Iraqis and over four thousand American lives in this war of choice in Iraq.

I believe that the Iraq war and the present economic conditions in the United States have illustrated the bankruptcy of the ideas of the conservative movement in this country. Similarly, as Comrade Burnett pointed out, back in 1992, to place “the collapse of the Soviet Union, into some kind of victories for the self-serving reactionary right in the United States would be an indictment of the intelligence of the democratic left in this country. Such imbecility is almost impossible to comprehend, no matter how many Republican press releases are sent out on its behalf.”

Combating so-called Islamofascism is not Right-Wing, as even our Third Camp Comrades, maintained in this article, "Only a Democratic Foreign Policy Can Combat Terrorism", by Thomas Harrison in the Winter 2002, edition of New Politics magazine.  While I have several differences with Comrade Harrison's position, a large portion of the revived SD,USA forthcoming statement on this issue will parallel his call for a new democratic foreign policy to combat Islamofascism.  We will not blindly follow a "Third Camp," approach, as certain aspects of Obama's foreign policy positions deserve our critical support.  Nevertheless, even here, our position will be broadly defined as being in support of democracy and religious pluralism vs. anti-democracy and religious fundamentalism.  In the anti-democratic camp are not only the remaining Communist regimes, right-wing dictatorships, and Islamic fundamentalist governments, but also multi-national corporations who have no
allegiances to any nation or creed except how to make the most profit. Thus, we have multi-national corporations dealings with China and Vietnam when those regimes have controlled work forces, government dominated trade unions, and imperial ties to Third World countries.

Therefore, the revived SDUSA's foreign policy program can be euphemistically be called a 2 and 1/2 camp position.  We do see Islamic extremism as one of the major dangers in the world today.  Thus, we will stand with the democratic West and moderate Muslims, vs. Islamic fundamentalism. We continue to affirm the best of bourgeois democracy, but we also recognize the imperialistic aspects resulting from its Capitalistic nature, particularly the activities of the multi-national corporations. Thus in the contest of the West against Islamic fundamentalism, we also still struggle against Western imperialism. Our support for democracy should not be confused with that of the neo-conservatives.  We do not make a fetish of Capitalist democracy and we do not believe that it can be militarily imposed from the outside.  Rather, we support all the authentic Democratic Left elements everywhere, including in the Muslim world.  We believe that U.S. foreign policy can
only be truly democratic if it becomes social democratic in nature.

Thus, as the new SDUSA continues to adhere to this position, no one will be able to confuse us with the old leadership and the neoconservatives. In future issues of the Torch & Rose and in our International Affairs resolution that will be approved at our forthcoming Re-foundation National Convention, we will further detail our concept of a 2 1/2 camp position

What the Revived Social Democrats, USA is Not:
Six Common Misconceptions that Our Critics still make about the SDUSA

by David A. Hacker

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