Revised Repost: Revolutionaries in High Places, Van Jones

Van Jones with fist in the air

Note: Bringing this back with a revised version. This commentary piece was removed after the attacks by right-wing blog and media sites on Van Jones intensified and led up to Obama washing his hands of Jones with his resignation. Right-wing sites cited “left wing blogger Machete408” as further ‘proof’ of Obama’s undercover socialist credentials (read an actual socialist refute this total non-sense here). As for Jones’ himself, he’s likely made some major political transitions. A mentor of his touts the pro-business, market-based ideas Van has promoted for years, including in his best-selling book, The Green Collar Economy.” (link) Though I think it’s fair to say that the tendency on the revolutionary left, Van Jones formerly included, which views alliances and involvement with the state and electoral politics—state power if you will— as a strategic orientation is alive and well. (See link, link, link and critique, critique) See also my follow up piece “On Van Jones’ Resignation.”

Did anyone catch the news that Van Jones of Green Jobs for All, and formerly of the Ella Baker Center in Oakland and a revolutionary organization in the Bay Area, was recently tapped by the Obama administration to serve as an advisor around green jobs? The position was officially dubbed the Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation on the White House Council on Environmental Quality, that is before Obama accepted Jones’ resignation following attacks by the right-wing blogosphere and Glen Beck on his radical past.

I’ll get back to that in a minute. I was having a conversation with a friend the other night about the legacy of sixties revolutionaries and Marxists who attempted to “proletarianize” themselves or as some called it “colonize the working class.” Many of these radicals, who were largely from more middle-class backgrounds and college graduates (or those who after becoming radicalized dropped out of college), got jobs in factories and various industries with the goal of bringing the messages of socialism and revolutionary politics to the working class. (For more on this see Max Elbaum’s excellent history of the sixties communist left with Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals Turn to Lenin, Che and Mao) Many of them also became active in the unions at these workplace, whom were largely conservative bureaucracies if not outright reactionary. Continue reading

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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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