Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Socialists Who Made the March on Washington

Of the many reasons why socialism never became a major political tendency in the United States, as it did in Europe, is that working people—more precisely, white working men—gained the franchise here during the Jacksonian era, well before socialism had developed into a mass movement in Europe or America or anyplace else. In Europe, by contrast, it was chiefly the agitation of socialist parties in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that led to the creation of universal manhood, and in some places womanhood, suffrage. Socialists brought ordinary Europeans the vote, which powerfully legitimated socialism for tens of millions of Europeans.

No equivalent legitimation happened in America. While there had been socialist movements and sects throughout the 19th century, the American Socialist Party wasn’t founded until 1901. That party, the Communist Party, and their various offshoots attracted thousands of activists during the 20th century, and their most enduring and significant achievement was to have seeded and helped form the movement for civil rights that led to the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (which went beyond Kennedy’s initial proposal to also ban racial discrimination in employment) and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. But despite their central role in the movement that led to the extension of the franchise to Southern blacks, American socialists experienced no gains for their movement equivalent to those their European counterparts had won. While Randolph, Rustin, and King were all democratic socialists, as were many of their colleagues and lieutenants, they did not march for civil rights under a socialist banner. To have done so would have been to make the attainment of civil rights all the more difficult. Nonetheless, the power of their economic perspective has been felt in black America from their time until this day. For decades, the proposed budgets of the Congressional Black Caucus spelled out what was essentially a vision of a social democratic American economy.

That vision, of course, was not realized. Accommodations were desegregated, but just as Randolph and his associates feared, the number of Americans who could afford to use them—who could afford college and medical care, to cite just two institutions that are legally open to all regardless of race and nonetheless beyond the reach of millions of Americans—remains well below any decent standard. Capitalism devoid of social democracy, the socialist planners of the march believed, would never produce the broadly shared prosperity that was needed if blacks and other racial minorities were to win more equal economic opportunities. Fifty years after the March on Washington, those socialists’ presentiments have been tragically borne out.
Linkage. This passage includes the closing paragraphs. Read the rest. Part of what attracted my to socialism - broadly speaking - was its commitment to economic equality as well as for civil rights. It was that way back when I was growing up in the shadow of the New Left back in the 1980s, and it is still true today. Keep in mind that the struggle for equality for all - economic, racial/ethnic, gender, etc. - is going to continue for the long haul. For the last couple decades especially, our elites of done their best to decouple civil rights from the economic issues that affect us all. As a divide and conquer strategy it has worked, and we are all suffering together - except of course for the 1%, who are making out like bandits while we fight each other. It did not have to go down like that, nor does it have to continue to go down like that. Something to think about.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Branding Communism?

Just a snippet, to whet the appetite:
Of course, if you don't want people to know that you are a communist organization, but be drawn to your ranks because of what you say and do without openly proclaiming yourself communist, then I suppose it makes sense to come up with a new symbol.  But this is blanquism, which is a problem that is larger than a choice in symbol, and has to do with tricking people into becoming communists.  Those of us who believe that communist organizing has to begin by proclaiming itself as communist, by refusing to hide the politics that untold millions died to bring into being, by drawing lines of demarcation based on our theory, and by beginning with those who are not afraid to gravitate towards an ideology feared by the bourgeoisie.  Indeed, the reason I am talking about treating communism as a brand is because I think it is important to popularize communism everywhere.  If I didn't think it was important, I wouldn't care about finding a logo to represent communism; I wouldn't have a valid reason to argue for an updated communist logo since I wouldn't care about what logos are supposed to do.

But a logo alone does not provide content––that is not, as aforementioned, the point of the logo.  What it does do is help identify a movement's politics (on the newspapers, on posters for events/rallies, on communiques, on handbills, on flags and banners, etc.) and divide those who are immediately opposed to what they believe the symbol represents and those who either agree with what they think the symbol represents or, at the very least, are intrigued.  In some ways it helps in the stage of accumulating those with an advanced consciousness; in some ways it helps cut down the amount of people who will not, at this stage, be interested in supporting you in any way/shape/form from showing up in those spaces in which you control the political line.  Running with the analogy of that bourgeois computer company (perhaps into the ground, but you be the judge!), one of the reasons why the apple with the bite is present on all of their products, even if it has only a vague connection to computers (byte maybe?), is because it not only serves the function of making the brand obsequious, it is also designed to produce a core of faithful consumers who will gravitate towards anything upon which the logo is branded.

Obviously it is not enough to simply have a logo.  The content represented by the logo is what ultimately matters: branding only serves the purpose of providing the easiest marketing division, separating those who might be interested from those who definitely are not.  Someone who is viscerally repelled by what they imagine a symbol represents will not gravitate towards the material upon which that symbol is branded; others who might be curious about the symbol, however, might also be repelled by what the symbol represents.  The logo simply eliminates the former group, but branding is not about depth: keeping long-term cadre has nothing to do with marketing an ideology, it has to do with actual agitation, practice, and ideological struggle.  But I'm talking about branding, not about theoretical and ideological practice, and branding only concerns surface details––it is about making an impression.

Linkage, for those who want to read the whole thing. There is a reason why I tend to continue liking the hammer and sickle as an image - it serves as a logo of sorts that is readily identifiable to anyone who views it. I know there are some who will disagree with me on this point (all I ask is that one can offer up an equally recognizably universal symbol that would identify a person or organization as communist). Naturally, there has to be some serious substance to go with the logo - and I'd like to think that Marxists of various stripes are very adept at providing plenty of content to provide the grist for reading, argument, and action. I think what this person is arguing for is not crass marketing, but simply to make sure that those of us who want to promote a Marxist alternative to the capitalist system are recognizable to those who might be interested in what we have to offer.

If nothing else, if you see someone with a blog bearing a hammer and sickle, or see an organization that utilizes it, you can make some (usually) fairly safe assumptions regarding what the individual/individuals have read and what they believe, and you can make that evaluation practically automatically. That's all a logo has to do.