On Van Jones’ Resignation

Van Jones portrait Over the Labor Day weekend Van Jones resigned his position as an special adviser on green jobs to the Obama administration amid a flurry of controversy around attacks by the usual suspects on the right raising a fit over his past associations with the left. Its hard to speculate whether it was his own decision to resign and leave the attacks behind or whether this brought from above by an administration hoping to polish its image (as well as engage in some political capitulation) while under attack from an aggressive right.

Either way, Jones seems to have been thrown under the political bus by the White House. As Rosa Celemente, former Green Party Vice President candidate, put it in a commentary piece, Jones was a “high-profile casualty of an administration that started at the center and continues to move to the right.”

Previously, Machete 408 had written about Jones in a commentary piece “Revolutionaries in High Places- Van Jones, “ which right wing blogs picked up as a source for the pieces discussion of his membership in STORM (Standing Together to Organize Revolutionary Movements). Interestingly, shortly before his resignation, Eva Paterson, who first hired Jones as a legal intern in the early 1990’s, wrote a piece defending Jones from the right-winger attacks. Here she characterizes his recent book, The Green Collar Economy, as “a veritable song of praise to capitalism, especially the socially responsible and eco-friendly kind” and as someone who had left behind his flirtations with radical politics to move on to “more effective and attainable solutions [ie mainstream politics and questions of policy for the capitalist state].”

There are two points that I think are worth drawing from this situation. The first goes back to my original commentary on Jones and the analogy I was attempting to draw with the labor movement in “Revolutionaries in High Places- Van Jones,” which is pointing out that the top ranks of the mainstream unions in the AFL-CIO are full of those who think of themselves as opposing capitalism and supporting some form of a socialist economy, or at least at one point did. Even Samuel Gompers himself was once a socialist (see Fletcher and Gasapin, Solidarity Divided, page 14). But the question remains, what has been the practical effect of former or current anti-capitalists in positions of power with either the state or in large, reformist and top-down business unions?

Lastly, is the issue of whether of Jones’ advocacy around green jobs is a strategy to help capitalism, which Clemente raised, or a strategic approach  the larger political landscape that the left should take up? I think as “a business-based solution to attack poverty” relying on capital to promote job creation and make up for the decline of the manufacturing sector, I think it clearly rests in the first camp. But what’s striking is that this approach is exactly in line with a popular analysis of the state centered socialist left, that advocated by Carl Davidson, ex-SDS member and founder of Progressives for Obama, in his November 2008 piece “The Bumpy Road Ahead: Obama and the Left.” Interestingly it continues the idea that we can divide capitalism into worse and a better (“progressive”) half, rather than a rotten system as a whole with contradictory aspects and players. Here’s an excerpt from Davidson’s piece:

Obama is carving out a new niche for himself, a work in progress still within the bounds of capitalism, but a ‘high road’ industrial policy capitalism that is less state-centric and more market-based in its approach, more Green, more high tech, more third wave and participatory, less politics-as-consumerism and more ‘public citizen’ and education focused. In short, it’s capitalism for a multipolar world and the 21st century. The unreconstructed neoliberalism and old corporate liberalism, however, are still very much in play. The former is in disarray, largely due to the financial crisis, but the latter is working overtime to join the Obama team and secure its institutional positions of power, from White House staff positions to the behind-the-scenes efforts on Wall Street to direct the huge cash flows of the Bail-Out in their favor … there will be a major tension and competition for funds between two rival sectors–a new green industrial-education policy sector and an old hydrocarbon-military-industrial sector. It’s a key task of the left and progressive movements to add their forces to uniting with and building up the former, while opposing and weakening the grip of the latter. This is the ‘High Road’ vs. ‘Low Road’ strategy widely discussed in progressive think tanks and policy circles.

"The Green Collar Economy" by Van Jones

"The Green Collar Economy" by Van Jones

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Looking at the 2009 May Day Rallies

MayDaymarch.jpg picture by adam_freedom

    The piece below from Chicago left blog Pilsenprole anlyzes the political terrian that led to the smaller turnout of the 2009 May Day rallies around immigration rights- though still more than the conservative media and well funded founcation sponsored Tea Party Protests this past April 15th. I couldn’t help but see many of the similarities with San Jose and I’m sure other cities as well.

  At the march in San Jose the role of Obama’s election was both a driving force (signs were emblazened with his image almost invoking him as a reason for the march itself) but also a damper as more institutional organizations took the stance that lobbying for immigration changes were more important and marches and movement (see post below for more). Following his nine point discussion on the immigration marches is a comparison between the media coverage around the Tea Parties and the May Day rallies. Read the original post here.

 

OK, I will be honest – this year’s May Day march in Chicago was small. Much smaller than the 750,000 to a million who marched in 2006. Smaller even than the tens of thousands who marched last year. After lambasting the mainstream media for their horrible coverage of last years march, I feel the need to be honest about the fact that this years turn-out was the smallest since 2006. And this pattern was repeated around the country, coast-to-coast. That said, this was a surprise to practically no one. Sure there were a few immigrants rights activists that predicated bigger turn outs, more out of the hope that their enthusiasm might encourage more people to show up. But I think everyone pretty much knew that this would not be the best of May Day celebrations.

The reasons are a multitude and quite obvious to anyone who has paid any attention to the political terrain as it relates to both the labor and immigrant rights movements:

1. Barack Obama’s election has diminished rather than encouraged increased activism among members of a number of social movements, including the immigrant rights movement. We saw this with the anti-war movement in previous months. The attitude is, we did our part in November, now let’s let Obama make good on his promises and give him some space and time. Unfortunately history shows that without mass mobilization, Obama will be less likely to remember promises made.
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Marches, Bosses, Workers, Foreclosures and Swine Flu

mayday2009.jpg may day 2009 picture by adam_freedom Once again San Jose led the Bay Area with the largest protest in Northern California for May 1, 2009.  While poor weather and swine flu scares turned many would-be marches away, many saw this years May Day immigrant rights march as the most spirited and significant since the massive march of 2006 when nearly 100,000 swelled the streets.

The day had a marked difference from previous the marches coming after 2006, as this year many of the more institutional organizations took a major step back in their involvement.  Reflecting on this is New American Media and Silicon Valley De-Bug commentator Raj Jayadev who wrote “The irony was that in an effort to reclaim that spirit of spontaneity that defined the 2006 march, every effort made by the large institutional organizations seemed more contrived and predictable [in the 2007 and 2008 marches].” He also gives his thoughts on the sense of fighting to win that was present with participants. (link)

To get a feel for the march, or maybe just to relive the the moment if you were there, check De-Bug’s video interviews of participants and photospread of the march here. One thing to note that I’ve heard from a couple of places is that in the media coverage of the march and the comments and signs of participants, there is a much higher emphisis on May Day, International Worker’s Day and worker issues than there an been in the past. Though of course the emphasis on immigrant rights has not been lost at all. A positive development without a doubt.

LoadLimit.jpg load limit picture by adam_freedom

Check out Pierce Artwork for an amazing and original collection of worker and labor related comics (featured above). A member of the IWW, Pierce offers a fresh, radical and often times subtly hilarous approach to themes relating to working class power. Comics are in English and Spanish as well as other languages.

vivalahuelga.jpg ufw strike picture by adam_freedom Speaking of labor, my recently posted  “Outline of US Labor History with a Focus on the Role of the Left” has been updated and expanded. The piece attempts to periodize the labor movement by decade, important organizations and broad trends. A particular focus is given on the role of the left and left organizations.

RepoTour.jpg Repo tour picture by adam_freedom Who pays the piper in the Obama administration? Well, rarely does the mainstream press lay it out so clearly:

“The Democratic-controlled Senate on Thursday defeated a plan to spare hundreds of thousands of homeowners from foreclosure through bankruptcy, a proposal that President Barack Obama embraced but did little to push through. … Obama had said [the proposal] was important to saving the economy and promised to push [it] through Congress. But facing stiff opposition from banks, Obama did little to pressure lawmakers who worried it would encourage bankruptcy filings and spike interest rates.” (Mercury News, May 1, 2009 link).

Meanwhile real estate agents have a “Repo Tour Home” service- a bus that drives potential clients around town to view recently reposessed homes- such as the one pictured above in Stockton, CA.

puerco.gif puerco picture by adam_freedom If you’ve had enough of the swine flu hysteria that has been gripping the media you’ll be glad to know that they seem to be shifting over to a fire burning the mansions of rich people in Santa Barbara and Obama and Biden’s lunch outings. But if you’re still hoping to laugh it off, you should try these videos: The new Swinewow super absorbent towel on Jimmy Kimmel Live and “La cancion del gripe marrano,” a song and dance video by a group of Mexico City musicians. English subtitles included.

Obama’s New Education Policy

Did folks catch this?

Obama announced his new education policy recently (read the Mercury News article here) … The three main elements were improved early childhood education (good), lift limits on charter schools (mixed bag), and link teacher pay to students performance on standardized testing (really bad). While early childhood education would be a marked improvment, charter schools are a mixed bad in my opinion in that they are potentially open to progressive models of schooling (think Downtown College Prep), but that they are also open to non and for-profit charter school chains, many of which are funded by large corporations, that are anything but progressive and basically a move towards piecemeal privatization of education. Charter schools also are largely non-union, either being hostile to unions or tragically ignored by unions who oppose them all together. Sadly, the linking of teacher pay to standardized testing though is not an echo, but more like an amplification of Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act polices- which continues to dumb down education and punish the poorest schools.

This post started quite a reaction when I posted it up on facebook. The best response was “a jab to the right, a fake to the left.” Great words.

A Short Road to Nowhere for the Left

on the long road to my education by iDanSimpson.

A Short Road to Nowhere for the Left

  Speaking of the old new left- “The Bumpy Road Ahead: New Tasks of the Left Following Obama’s Victory” is a strategy and analysis piece circulated by folks who do believe the state/electoral alliances/politics can be a vehicle for change leading to revolution. The piece is by ex-SDS leader Carl Davidson, who is now a figure in the anti-war group, United for Peace and Justice, and an alliance of pro-Obama progressives and radicals aptly named Progressives for Obama.  The analysis is well worth the read, but the strategy is something completely different. A few points I would agree with, but it is by and large a trip down a well beaten path I think many would be wise not to repeat.  

  Problematic is the idea of the left supporting the “green industrial-education policy sector” of capitalism, represented by Obama, against its rival “old hydrocarbon-military-industrial sector,” represented by the McCain and Bush camp. I don’t think the left has a dog in this race any more than the left should support Apple computers versus Microsoft in the antitrust lawsuit brought against the later. It smells too much like the Marxist parties of Latin America who backed capitalist governments pushing industrialization (to the ruin of peasant farmers) against the ‘feudal’ land holders. Shameful though are the attacks on anti-electoral left and those justifiably skeptical of involvement in electoral politics and coalitions as “adding fuel to the fascist fires”- not too far off from the US Communist Party attacking those further to the left as “social fascists.” Worthy of a longer response.

Article Reposts: A New Old Left and the Left States of Latin America

Everybody Wants A New Old Left

By Elliot Liu, http://www.linesblog.com/

Left_1.jpg picture by adam_freedom

A response piece by Elliott Liu of APOC-NYC to two proposals for new directions, along with cohesion and regroupment among the socialist left. The first piece, Which Way Is Left is by Freedom Road Socialist Organization, a nationwide soft/post-Maoist group formed during the 1980’s with the merger of several New Communist Movement remnants. The second, Manifesto For A Left Turn, was put together by a collection of professors from the east coast including Stanley Aronowitz and Rick Wolff. This piece makes me look back on my own attempt to respond to the resurgence of party building attempts in the left, which can be found here and is sorely in need of a re-write.

While I have major differences with the proposals put forward in Which Way and Manifesto, I know [the] anti-authoritarian movement in the U.S. has a long way to go before it can demonstrate that building struggle from below is more effective than strategies that rely on parties and the state. To critique the latter approach carries with it an implicit challenge: to build new kinds of horizontal power, capable of meeting people’s needs while outmaneuvering or outfighting the state form. We have our work cut out for us.

Everybodywantsanewleft.gif picture by adam_freedom

 

Lessons Learned: Latin American Left Has Much to Teach Obama Supporters

Written by Daniel Denvir
January 2009, The Indypendent

ObamandLA.jpg picture by adam_freedomAn interesting, but sadly all too brief overview on the election of left-wing governments across Latin America and their relationship with social movements. Raises interesting parallels and questions about the relationship between Obama and left social movements in the US.

In this context of ambiguous electoral victories, movements throughout the hemisphere have come to the conclusion that despite the importance of electing and defending progressive governments, real change cannot come without struggles in the workplaces, schools and streets. Workers making windows and doors in Chicago and landless farmers occupying oligarchs’ landholdings in Brazil and Bolivia legislate their own reality. While social movements in the U.S. should fight to hold Obama accountable for his business friendly tendencies, we must also fight to transform the political landscape from below. After all, it was the massive social movements of the 1930s and not the president’s ideological disposition that pushed FDR to enact his New Deal reforms. But an “inside-outside strategy” holds both promise and pitfalls, as movements navigate the blurry line between critical engagement and cheerleading. As Uruguayan writer Raúl Zibechi writes, “In love as in cooptation, you need two.” The same goes for social change.

The Leaders We’ve Been Waiting For

Commentary to come…. 

WE ARE THE LEADERS WE’VE BEEN WAITING FOR
by Sandy Perry

My people’s suffering
pierced me, entangled
my soul like barbed wire:
gripped my heart:
I went to cry out at the crossroads,
I went out to weep, enveloped in mist,
I touched the doors and they wounded me
like sharp-pointed knives,
I called out to the impassive faces
that I adored before like stars,
and they showed me their void.
— Pablo Neruda

 

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