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Doug Enaa Greene

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United States: Michael Harrington’s failure of vision

 

 

Interview with Doug Greene,

August 18, 2021 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from Left Voice — An interview with Doug Greene, the author of a new biography of Michael Harrington, A Failure of Vision: Michael Harrington and the Limits of Democratic Socialism (London: Zero Books, 2022)

Lessons of the Paris Commune (Part III)

 

 

By Doug Enaa Greene

The history of the Paris Commune has become a touchstone of great importance for the question: How should the revolutionary working class organize its tactics and strategy in order to achieve ultimate victory? With the fall of the Commune, the last traditions of the old revolutionary legend have likewise fallen forever; no favorable turn of circumstances, no heroic spirit, no martyrdom can take the place of the proletariat’s clear insight into … the indispensable conditions of its emancipation. What holds for the revolutions that were carried out by minorities, and in the interests of minorities, no longer holds for the proletariat revolution. … In the history of the Commune, the germs of this revolution were effectively stifled by the creeping plants that, growing out of the bourgeois revolution of the eighteenth century, overran the revolutionary workers’ movement of the nineteenth century. Missing in the Commune were the firm organization of the proletariat as a class and the fundamental clarity as to its world-historical mission; on these grounds alone it had to succumb.

— Franz Mehring1

March 22, 2021 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from Left Voice — In 1919 at the end of the failed January Uprising in Berlin, Rosa Luxemburg observed the following in one of her last articles:

The whole path of socialism, as far as revolutionary struggles are concerned, is paved with sheer defeats. And yet, this same history leads step by step, irresistibly, to the ultimate victory! Where would we be today without those “defeats” from which we have drawn historical experience, knowledge, power, idealism! Today, where we stand directly before the final battle of the proletarian class struggle, we are standing precisely on those defeats, not a one of which we could do without, and each of which is a part of our strength and clarity of purpose.2

The Resolution of the Communards (Part II)

 

 

 

Whereas nobody’s left who still believes
The government whatever it promises
We have resolved we’ll build ourselves good lives
By being the only ones who govern us.
Whereas you’ll listen to what the cannon say —
No other language will you listen to —
Well then, we’ll have to turn the cannon your way.
Yes, that will be the best thing we can do!

 

— Bertolt Brecht, “Resolution of the Communards”

By Doug Enaa Greene

March 19, 2021 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from Left Voice — On March 18, 1871, the National Guard took over all the strategic points in Paris without meeting any resistance. It was the largest revolutionary organization in Paris, but it had not planned to take power that day. Now power had practically fallen into its hands; the guard had only to decide what to do with it.

Insurgent Communards: The Road to Revolution (Part I)

 

 

By Doug Enaa Greene

March 19, 2021 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from Left Voice — In June 1871, the French poet Eugène Pottier wrote a poem entitled “L’Internationale” to commemorate the fallen Paris Commune. That poem contains the following lines, calling the working class to revolution:

Arise, ye prisoners of starvation!

Arise, ye wretched of the earth!

For justice thunders condemnation:

A better world’s in birth! …

Engels against reformism in Germany and France

 

 

By Doug Enaa Greene

December 11, 2020 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from Left Voice — More than a century ago, Eduard Bernstein claimed that it was time for socialists to abandon their revolutionary goal of overthrowing capitalism. He argued that the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) should adopt a reformist approach that strictly relied on legal channels, such as elections in which socialism could slowly be voted into power. To support his position, Bernstein cited the authority of Friedrich Engels, who had allegedly reached similar conclusions in one of his last works. Citing Engels’s introduction to Marx’s Class Struggles in France, Bernstein argued, “Engels is so thoroughly convinced that tactics geared to a catastrophe have had their day that he considers a revision to abandon them to be due even in the Latin countries where tradition is much more favourable to them than in Germany.”1 Bernstein is not alone in claiming Engels for reformism; he was later joined by others such as Karl Kautsky, Ralph Miliband, and Santiago Carrillo.2 Even the American democratic socialist Michael Harrington, who otherwise viewed Engels as a “distorter” of Marxism, had no problem using him to vindicate a democratic socialist strategy: “In his 1895 Preface to a new edition of Marx’s Class Struggles in France, Engels summarized the democratic strategy in sweeping historical terms…. Engels’s turn toward what can only be called democratic socialism was a critically important deepening of the idea of socialism itself.”3

Book Review: How to Be an Anti-Capitalist in the 21st Century

 

 

By Doug Enaa Greene

November 19, 2020 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from Left Voice — I needed a break from my normal routine, so read Erik Olin Wright’s How to Be an Anti-Capitalist in the 21st Century. This was published last year and was one of the last books Wright wrote before dying of cancer. Wright himself was a sociologist, Analytical Marxist, and a democratic socialist. Also by all accounts, he seemed to be a decent human being, so all my criticisms here are not about him, but rather his book.

Lenin’s Boys: A short history of Soviet Hungary

 

 

By Doug Enaa Greene

August 26, 2020 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from Cosmonaut — It is 1919 and Russia is in the midst of a ruthless civil war with fronts stretching for thousands of kilometers across a ruined country. On one side are aristocrats and capitalists who had been overthrown less than two years before and are now desperately fighting to return to power. On the other side are the workers and peasants of the former Russian Empire, who had seized power from their former masters and were now determined to defend it. It is a savage struggle between two irreconcilable worlds with only two ways it can end: total victory or death. 

Remembering Trotsky’s contributions

 

 

By Doug Enaa Greene

August 26, 2020 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from Left Voice — On August 21, 1940, an assassin killed Leon Trotsky while he was living in exile. This cowardly murder was the culmination of more than a decade of persecution and slander by Joseph Stalin that saw Trotsky driven from the Soviet Union and forced to travel the planet without a visa. Whereas many other opponents of the bureaucratic degeneration of the Soviet Union capitulated and rallied to Stalin, Trotsky never laid down his arms and remained unconquered. Trotsky had to die since he fought for and symbolized revolutionary internationalism and the renewal of the hopes of 1917. For revolutionary militants today, Leon Trotsky not only serves as an example, but his Marxism is a necessary tool in the struggle for communism.

We had to tear this mothafucka up: The legacy of the LA Uprising

 

 

By Doug Enaa Greene & Shalon van Tine

June 19, 2020 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from Left Voice — The L.A. Uprising began after the beating of African American construction worker Rodney King. On March 3, 1991, the LAPD pulled over King, and four police officers beat him within an inch of his life. What made King’s case unique compared to other examples of police brutality was that his beating was caught on tape. That footage quickly spread across the country. The police attempted to justify their abuse of power, falsely claiming that King was on PCP and that he had attacked them. Anger was so widespread that prosecutors charged the officers in question, hoping to appease the public outcry. 

Ten revolutionary books to read under quarantine

 

 

By Doug Enaa Greene

April 16, 2020 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from Left Voice — Many people can’t leave the house to COVID-19. But we can prepare for coming struggles. Here are 10 books to learn about Marxism. 

A fight on two fronts: On Jean-Luc Godard’s 'La Chinoise'

 

 

By Doug Enaa Greene and Shalon van Tine 

 

September 7, 2019 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from Cosmonaut — Jean-Luc Godard’s La Chinoise (1967) is not an ordinary film. On the surface, La Chinoise seems simple enough: it tells the story of French students in the 1960s who form a Maoist collective, live together, have political discussions, and eventually turn to revolutionary violence. However, the film is difficult to follow since it not only lacks a coherent narrative structure, but the viewer is bombarded with slogans, images, and ideas on everything from popular culture to revolutionary politics. Anyone who attempts to analyze their meaning will easily feel buried by all the sights and sounds that Godard packs into it. Considering the chaotic nature of La Chinoise, the slogan found at the beginning — “We should replace vague ideas with clear images” — may well appear out of place, if not ironic.[1]

 

The democratic socialist cul-de-sac: A critical look at 'The Socialist Manifesto'

 

 

The Socialist Manifesto
By Bhaskar Sunkara
New York: Basic Books, 2019

 

Reviewed by Doug Enaa Greene

 

Leon Trotsky and cultural revolution

 

 

By Doug Enaa Greene

 

May 13, 2019 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from Cosmonaut — The argument that a “cultural revolution” is a necessary part of a socialist revolution is generally associated with Mao Zedong and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) that he initiated in China. However, Leon Trotsky, in a vastly different way than Mao, stated that Russia needed a cultural revolution. According to Trotsky, a cultural revolution was needed along with industrialization to construct socialism. Trotsky’s industrialization plan for Russia would increase the social weight of the proletariat. A cultural revolution would raise the masses’ cultural level by eradicating mass illiteracy and superstition and change their habits and customs, which would make the working class fit to rule society.

 

Michael Harrington and his afterlives

 

 

By Doug Enaa Greene

 

May 5, 2019 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from Cosmonaut — Michael Harrington (1928-1989) was the most important advocate for democratic socialism in the United States in the latter half of the twentieth century. He is widely, and deservedly, recognized for writing The Other America, a seminal exposé of poverty in the United States. However, Michael Harrington was not simply a public intellectual but a political activist who developed a vision to make democratic socialism into a major force in American life. His strategy was to realign the Democratic Party by driving out the business interests and transform it into a social democratic party. This new party of the people would then not only represent the interests of the vast majority and pass genuine reforms, but begin the transition to democratic socialism. Michael Harrington’s politics and vision have outlived him and they remain the “common sense” of much of the American left, shaping debates in the organization he founded, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).

 

Lenin, the Labour Party, and Democrats

 

 

By Doug Enaa Greene

 

May 5, 2019 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from Left Voice with permission — There is a relatively common justification among large sections of the American left who offer various levels of support to the Democratic Party that they are merely creatively applying Lenin’s tactics to the present moment. The argument is familiar: the British Labour Party had the allegiance of the trade unions and millions of workers. And in order not to be isolated from the mass of workers, Lenin argued that British communists should affiliate to the Labour Party and support its candidates in elections. In present day America, it is claimed that the Democrats are an equivalent to the Labour Party since they have the support of organized labor and that their candidates, especially “democratic socialist” ones, deserve the support of socialists in order to advance working-class interests. However, this is a false equivalence. The Labour Party of 1920 and the Democratic Party of 2019 are fundamentally different organizations, with the former owing its origin to trade unions and the latter being a thoroughly bourgeois institution.

 

Looking for loopholes: On the misuses of Lenin’s “‘Left-Wing’ Communism”

 

 

By Doug Enaa Greene

 

March 26, 2019  
— Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from Left Voice with the author's permission — With the 2020 U.S. presidential election already in full swing, we are already hearing the familiar clichés from liberals: that this is the “most important election in our lifetime” and that we must support the Democrats to defeat Donald Trump. Any left-wing criticism of the Democrats is met with a prompt demand to “shut up,” renounce our principles and get in line. Unfortunately, there are socialists and communists who not only repeat these liberal refrains, but also quote Lenin to justify supporting for the Democratic Party and to attack other socialists and communists as “dogmatists,” “purists” and “ultra-leftists.” The Lenin text most often cited as providing “loopholes” for radicals to abandon their principles and support the class enemy is “‘Left-Wing’ Communism: An Infantile Disorder” (LWC). This is, however, a gross misinterpretation of the purpose of Lenin’s LWC, which is not about rationalizing opportunism; rather, it is intended to help communists think seriously about strategy and tactics in order to successfully lead the working class.

 

Karl Kautsky: From Pope to Renegade

 

 

Eduard Bernstein and Karl Kautsky, 1910

 

By Doug Enaa Greene

 

October 25, 2018 
— Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from Left Voice with author's permission — At the height of the Second International, Karl Kautsky was recognized by socialists and anti-socialists alike as “The Pope of Marxism” for his popularization and systematization of Marxist ideas. The great figures of the day looked to him for guidance, whether Rosa Luxemburg, Leon Trotsky, V. I. Lenin, or Eugene Debs. Since Kautsky was such an authoritative voice on Marxism, his subsequent betrayal was so deep that later communists could be forgiven for mistaking his first name as “Renegade” (as Lenin bitterly called him). Although Kautsky fell into obscurity following the Russian Revolution, in the last few years there has been a revival of interest in his politics in both academia (notably by the scholar Lars Lih) and on the political left. This raises questions about the meaning of Kautsky’s orthodox Marxism and about what, if anything, a renewed revolutionary left should adopt from it as our own?

 

More than universal healthcare: the meaning of socialism

 

 

Schemes of state and municipal ownership, if unaccompanied by this co-operative principle, are but schemes for the perfectioning of the mechanism of capitalist government - schemes to make the capitalist regime respectable and efficient for the purposes of the capitalist; in the second place they represent the class-conscious instinct of the business man who feels that capitalist should not prey upon capitalist, while all may unite to prey upon the workers... To the cry of the middle class reformers, “make this or that the property of the government,” we reply, “yes, in proportion as the workers are ready to make the government their property.”

 

  James Connolly [1]

 

By Doug Enaa Greene

 

August 1 2018
— Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from Left VoiceA recent op-ed in the Los Angeles Times boldly stated, “Americans like socialism now.” Increasingly among younger people, the word “socialism” has lost its Cold War stigma. According to the article, the new-found interest in socialism is linked to the 2008 crash and its recovery, “which has seen nearly all newly created wealth claimed by the 1% while wages stagnate, has led to a rebirth of the American left.”[2] In other words, for most people, capitalism just wasn’t working.

 

The Relevance of Marx at 200

 

 

By Doug Enaa Greene

 

May 10, 2018 
— Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from Left Voice  — May 5 is the 200th birthday of Karl Marx. However, what is there to celebrate? Surely, Marx is out of date now with the fall of the Soviet Union and the triumph of capitalism.

 

Menshevism: The Girondins of 1917

 

 

By Doug Enaa Greene

 

April 25, 2018
— Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from Left Voice with the author's permission — Whatever their differences, Lenin, Plekhanov, Martov, and Trotsky all saw the Russian Revolution as following in the experience of the French Revolution of 1789. The Russian revolutionaries also modeled themselves on the different parties of the French Revolution, whether consciously or unconsciously, as guides for action. Lenin and the Bolsheviks believed they were modern-day Jacobins – stalwart revolutionaries who would organize the working class and take power. By contrast, the Mensheviks were moderate Girondins. Menshevism was committed to gradualism and opposed to the “historical impatience” of a socialist revolution. Like the Girondins, the Mensheviks were honorable, but like their predecessors, they lacked faith in the revolutionary abilities of the people. That was the root of their failure in 1917.

 

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