Views in brief

November 22, 2016

Unrelenting opposition to Trump

THE STRATEGY the Democrats are currently pursuing is dangerous. What they are trying to do is normalize Trump, to muddy the waters when our analysis should be clear.

Hillary Clinton argued in her concession speech that we owe Trump "an open mind and the chance to lead."

Barack Obama went further, saying:

Those who didn't vote for him have to recognize that that's how democracy works. That's how this system operates...Whenever you have got an incoming president of the other side, particularly after a bitter election like this, it takes a while for people to reconcile themselves with that new reality. Hopefully, it's a reminder that elections matter and voting counts.

Bernie Sanders pledged: "If Mr. Trump has the guts to stand up to those corporations...he will have an ally with me." Yikes.

The strategy of "with him sometimes" seeks to undermine resistance to Trump's agenda. There will come a time when Sanders or Elizabeth Warren may urge us to "stand with Trump" to pass some infrastructure bill, or even support wars abroad.

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Meanwhile, undocumented workers and refugees will be targeted by an unrestrained, confident state. Protests will be surveilled and repressed. Private prisons will boom. Hate crimes will ravage the country by an emboldened white supremacist right. Reproductive rights will come under broad assault. Labor unions will face attacks at the federal level.

Of course, many of the weapons Trump can use against us were developed and refined over the last eight years. Thanks, Obama.

Rather than build a principled resistance recognizing that the threat Trump poses can only be opposed by mass struggle--in the form of protests, strikes, building occupations and more--Democrats would have us try to bargain from their current political minority status, and to put our faith and energy into organizing for election 2018 and 2020.

We can't afford to wait until 2018. Millions of undocumented workers can't wait until 2020. Our Muslim brothers and sisters can't give Trump a chance, so neither can any of us.

Every time Trump sends ICE into a community, we should all be there. For every hate crime, we should respond with mass protest. We have to defend our comrades when the state threatens incarceration. We have to build a movement that puts "An injury to one is an injury to all" at its center.

Readers’ Views welcomes our readers' contributions to discussion and debate about articles we've published and questions facing the left. Opinions expressed in these contributions don't necessarily reflect those of SW.

What way the struggle against Trump goes is up for grabs. The Democrats, as always, vie for leadership, and argue for conciliation with horror. We must reject that, and fight to defend our communities against all attacks.

Trump does not deserve our support at any time, for any reason. We must argue this from a place of principle. If we relent in our struggle and allow support for some of Trump's policies to mix in among our resistance to Trump on all fronts, we weaken our resolve and normalize atrocity.
Ben Taylor, Amherst, Mass.

Gramsci's method and meaning

BOTH PAUL D'Amato ("Advice for understanding Gramsci") and Phil Gasper ("What Gramsci was allowed to say") have responded to a letter I wrote to several weeks ago ("A clarification on Gramsci's thought") in response to a claim made in Todd Chrietien's article, "Would Gramsci be #WithHer?" At the risk of prolonging perhaps an obscure discussion, I should like a brief opportunity to elaborate my case.

My initial letter disputed Todd's claim that, in the context of a collection of notes published as The Modern Prince, "in order to get past the prison censors that read everything he sent from his cell, Gramsci substituted the word 'prince' for 'party.'" These notes were the first of his writings translated into English, and are probably the best known section, at least among revolutionary socialists, of the his prison writings.

I relied on Peter Thomas' account in The Gramscian Moment (Haymarket, 2009), in stating that there is in fact little reason to believe Gramsci was using deliberately obscure language in these set of notes to elude his fascist censors, as they knew he was a prominent Italian Communist and would likely write about politics if they allowed him pen and paper.

Rather, I argued, following Thomas, that the often abstruse and vague nature of these and the other prison notes are down to three factors:

--1. They were notebooks, not meant for immediate publication or consumption;

2. The cramped conditions of his life in prison such as shortages of paper and lack of access to a library often produced notes that were often obscure, fragmented and delivered in an elliptical shorthand;

3. He was deeply interested in Machiavelli as a political thinker, which was part of a tendency to draw on classical or contemporary thinkers such as Vico, Hegel, Bergson, Sorel and Croce in addition to Marx, Engels and Lenin.

In objection to this, Phil cites his own experience of finding volume one of Capital, but not the Communist Manifesto, in a bookshop in apartheid-era South Africa. "Why the difference?" he asks.

The Manifesto was regarded as an agitational work that was accessible to--and likely to be read by--a wide audience. By contrast, Capital is a theoretical treatise of several hundred pages. Even though it reaches the same conclusions as the Manifesto, the apartheid government censors permitted it to be distributed because they thought that few people would actually read it.

I see little reason why this should contradict me, especially since, as I pointed out in the initial letter, Gramsci did not intend his notes for immediate publication in fascist Italy. Rather, as he told his sister-in-law Tania Schücht in a letter, he wanted to do something in jail that would be "für ewig" (forever), not to be published immediately or even necessarily in the form he gave them.

He had no reason to believe anything he wrote could be published under those conditions. Rather, he wrote for posterity, especially his children, one of whom he had never seen in the flesh, and for his comrades, who he hoped would be able to take onboard some of his insights after the terrible conditions of the Mussolini regime had been somewhat lifted and the breath of a new wave of workers' struggle reinvigorated the Italian Communist Party.

Paul, on the other hand, draws a contrast between one passage of Gramsci from 1921 on the workers' councils, and one from the Notebooks which is typically abstruse and seemingly reformist. He writes: "Whatever differences can be discerned in the content of what is being said, it's clear that the language of the second one can't simply be put down to Gramsci's interest in Machiavelli."

I never said this. As I wrote, Gramsci drew a parallel between the enlightened despot of Renaissance Italy that Machiavelli wrote about and the revolutionary party as the modern vehicle for political change.

Paul seems here to be framing his interpretation in the terms that everything Gramsci wrote must be strictly necessary for activism, when in fact, Gramsci was cut off from political action and concerned not only with the future implications of his writing, but in creating a "live work," as he writes of Machiavelli's Prince, which would be enduring both politically and stylistically.

Here is the answer, I think, for Paul's question of "why, suddenly, once he gets to prison, does he begin using this Aesopian language, and not before?" Gramsci was trying to do something at once political and literary that could not only provide lessons for his comrades in the future, but could provide a vision to sustain him during the years of confinement and illness that would lead to his death at the age of 46.

On the other hand, Paul does offer a partial alternative explanation for Gramsci's frequently Aesopian language in his prison writings, one that I mistakenly did not consider in my initial letter but that I think is a serious argument and agree with much of. Gramsci deliberately avoids the question of Stalinism and bureaucratism in the Comintern and Italian Communist Party (CPI), he says, because his wife and children were living in Russia, and he was concerned for their safety.

Of course, this does not strictly apply to many sections of the notes on subjects like the genesis of the Italian language, Dante's Inferno, or the history of the Catholic Church, although it's clear that these concerns were never far from his mind.

It's also clear that Gramsci--who, with fellow imprisoned Communists, participated in discussions of Trotsky's My Life and Wither France? despite the Comintern's anathemas, and who privately denounced the first of the Moscow Trials--was deeply concerned about the degeneration of the Russian Revolution and the Stalinist stranglehold on the Comintern, despite the fact he felt constrained by his prison cell, his position in the CPI, and the status of his Russian wife and children from openly speaking his mind.

This was not, it should be clear, due to problems of getting them published, but the fact that other Italian Communists such as Palmiro Togliatti, who had previously censored Gramsci's letter to the Soviet Politbureau speaking against the treatment of Trotsky and the United Opposition, could have access to them.

So I agree in substance with Paul that Gramsci probably had good reason for adopting an evasive style when writing on problems that involved or could be seen to involve Stalinism.

In this context, I think of Nikolai Bukharin, who in 1929 wrote a blistering attack on Stalin's drive to forced collectivization disguised as a condemnation of Trotskyist errors, and of Nadezhda Krupskaya, whose memoirs of her relationship with Lenin published in the early 1930s contained lengthy excerpts from Lenin's writings that implicitly contradicted the Third Period line of "class against class" and a deliberate neglect for the democratic tasks of a revolution.

One final note on this subject: Paul writes, "In the notes, there are no direct references to Stalinism or Stalin." In fact, there is at least one direct, although not explicit, reference which appears towards the end of The Modern Prince.

Stalin, who he refers to as Giuseppe Bessarione (Josef Vissarionovich), is cited in the middle of a discussion which condemns Lev Davidovitch Bronstein (Trotsky) for his reliance on revolutionary methods that seek to force the pace of change in a "war of maneuver" as opposed to the "war of position" he thought was more appropriate to Western Europe.

Gramsci was obviously wrong to attribute these ideas to Trotsky, and there is evidence that, as Frank Rosengarten has written, he felt such a deep emotional reaction to Trotsky's personal style, particularly expressed during fractious arguments on the united front policy in 1921-22, that he was unable to treat Trotsky fairly thereafter. Or perhaps he was engaging in a little of what Bukharin and Krupskaya practiced under severe conditions, attributing ideas to Trotsky that he actually thought belonged to Stalin.

Either way, I thank Paul, Phil and the editors of for their contribution and attention.
Bill Crane, Greenville, S.C.

Fighting an anti-democratic institution

IN RESPONSE to "Trump creep show gets ready for the big stage": A very good way to give direction to the anger of the millions who are outraged at the prospect of a Trump presidency is to wage a struggle from below aimed at making the Electoral College bow to the will of the people as expressed by way of the vote.

The right to determine who governs a country through voting is perhaps the most fundamental right associated with the workings of bourgeois democracy. In the aftermath of Election 2016, the working class and the other oppressed people of the U.S. are facing the prospect that the Electoral College, that anti-democratic creation of chattel slavery, will impose a national government in defiance of the popular vote for the second time in 16 years.

Ignoring the real very outrage that the Electoral College/popular vote contradiction is fueling would be the biggest mistake the International Socialist Organization (ISO) and other political organizations to the left of the Democratic Party could make between now and January 20.

Building a movement between now and December 19 (when the presidential electors vote) capable of pressuring a majority of the electors to vote for the presidential candidate who finished first in the popular vote would certainly be a Herculean task, but not an impossible one.

In 21 states, presidential electors can legally vote for whoever they choose. And constitutional scholars overwhelmingly conclude that state laws wedding a presidential elector to a particular presidential candidate would be struck down as unconstitutional if challenged in court.

More importantly, what can be said of a left, anywhere in the world, that stands by passively and allows the workings of an explicitly anti democratic institution, in this case the Electoral College, impose a national government in defiance of the popular vote? And for this to happen a second time in less than two decades can only result in the left in question losing face with the working class at home and class-conscious workers around the world.

Worse still, for the Electoral College to triumph over the popular vote without serious challenge from below, yet again, will surely feed feelings of powerlessness and despair within the working class and other oppressed people in this country.

Finally, those who conclude that fighting for the Electoral College to bow to the popular vote is about putting Hillary Clinton in the White House simply fail to understand that the essence of such a struggle is about winning a democratic right. Not surprisingly, Clinton, who obviously values her family's privileged position in capitalist USA more than her claim on the White House, is perfectly content to let this rotten political status quo stand.

In the present situation, it is the ISO and the other political organizations to the left of the Democratic Party that have to serve as the catalyst for this mass democratic struggle if it is to happen at all.
Mike Howells, New Orleans