Socialism 2015: Strange case of the American Left

Derek Monroe
Derek Monroe is a writer/reporter and consultant based in Illinois, USA. He has reported on international and US foreign policy issues from Latin America, Poland, Japan, Iraq, Ukraine, Sri Lanka and India. His work appeared in Foreign Policy in Focus, Alternet, Truthout and Ohmynews, and has been published in over 20 countries.
© WeAreManyMedia
Rarely does one comes across an opportunity to experience hypocrisy of political rhetoric that is outside the American Republican/Democratic duopoly and the Tea Party lunacy.

The recent conference themed Socialism 2015 put out by the Center for Economic Research and Social Change and Haymarket Books in Chicago made the already low standards even lower. The site location, whether intended or not, was a bull's eye in terms of sending the message of perceived proletarian "victory": Hyatt Regency, a four star hotel in the premiere showcase of capitalist Chicago: The McCormick Place. As an alternative, the venue of the Crowne Plaza hotel was considered unsuitable due to its stand with Israel and protested by the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanctions) movement so the organizers chose a less compromising location to their principled/unprincipled stand. Although unionized, the Hyatt has a very checkered history of dealing with workers, such as a 2011 incident when picketing workers had the heat lamps turned on them in July.

Furthermore it is rather ironic that the company owned by the Pritzker family (Penny Pritzker is the current US Secretary of Commerce hell bent on making the TPP a reality), is actually paid by the "Socialists". When I approached Haymarket Books’ activist organizer about his take on the location the response was short and sweet: "We got a good deal on the space." Spoken like a real, hardcore socialist, indeed.

As it turned out the scent of money was also the underwriting current in the politics of the day and its lectures. From a very detailed analysis of the Russian Revolution and Vladimir Ilyich Lenin's works to convoluted marketing-like stretching of historical facts that would make the idea of revolution attractive to the overwhelmingly millennial crowd, the facts and historical truths were left as road kill on the road to the shining "revolutionary" future. The fact of the October Revolution eating its young and faithful was not discussed when the original Soviets of the February 1917 revolution were crushed. In the end of the consolidation process headed by the "good" Lenin, Trotsky and Dzerzhinsky turned their red fury on the very people who helped them stay in power i.e. (Kronstadt rebellion). The cannibalistic sacrifice on the altar of ideology was made systemic under Stalin. The lily white and pure revolutionary spirit took its toll in five million victims of resulting civil war that were left unmentioned even as statistics. Even the basic historical fact of revolution funded and facilitated by the German Imperial government that saw Lenin as its best chance to destabilize Russia thus taking it out of WW 1 was not given any thought. Incidentally the same MO was repeated 50 years later, first by Israel in its funding and support of Hamas as opposite to Arafat's PLO, and later by the US that funded and equipped the fledgling Mujahedeen network in Afghanistan against the Soviets. In all of these cases the long-term result was actually quite opposite to what was set out with blowback enormous enough to alter the course of history. The money trail was also omitted in one of the lectures that emphasized victory of workers in then Communist Poland as an example of successful proletarian solidarity that later blossomed into the Solidarnosc (Solidarity) movement. However, the context presented missed facts about "help" by AFL-CIO affiliate being a CIA front using funds and incorporating the Vatican’s role as a guiding light for millions of Catholics, all realized and funded by US taxpayers.

© Kacper Pempel

As result the curious set up of workers that fought for capitalism surprisingly resulted in neoliberal economic model with the majority of Solidarnosc and Communist top hierarchy joining hands in making themselves rich at the expense of chumps that voted for them. With recent Polish statistics pointing to over 35 percent of Polish children receiving state aid due to poverty and millions of its educated young working abroad, the "successful" example of Polish workers' efforts proves just the opposite what the lecture actually alleged. The discrepancy between reality and its perception in the conference went on when the conversation transferred to the domestic political scene. When I inquired about experience of different socialist movements worldwide and their efforts of bringing their ideas to the mainstream by both trial and error that works for most people, I was specifically told that US conditions make that impossible. In this way both the Socialists, Democrats, Republicans and Tea Party have something absolute in common: blind faith in the American Exceptionalism. It makes the former willing to re-invent the socialist wheel without regard of historical conditioning and the latter's belief in small government principles of a white and slave owning ruling elite called the founders. The conversation turned quite heated with public repudiation of the Democratic Party whose latest efforts by Bernie Sanders, the only socialist serving in the US Congress, were deemed shilling for existing political duopoly with names of Dennis Kucinich and Russ Feingold, both progressives, also thrown into the cauldron of ideological subterfuge. Even the middle of the road intellectuals represented by Bhaskar Sunkara, Editor & Publisher of Jacobin, a leading magazine of the new American left, jumped on the bandwagon declaring Bernie Sanders to be a boring speaker that put him to sleep after just five minutes. When I approached the other main speaker, Comrade Ashley, on stage with my opinion about dead end ideological arguments served by him and identical to what was discussed by the ruling proletariat class, having lived on the other side of Iron Curtain, his response was swift: "you didn't live in socialism but state capitalism, that is why your points are pointless." It was like dialing up for FAQs of political theory and getting your answers prerecorded just by pressing the right dial. Easy, convenient and to the point.

Another curious sighting of the conference was its strict adherence to socialist dogma on education where the pen is mightier than the sword. In this case the pen was replaced by the iPhone and it was amazing to see that both the capitalist and socialist classes have found its design and utility attractive despite its rather dark corporate legacy. In that spirit Comrade Ashley declared the universal truth of all workers uniting for a better tomorrow and emphasizing that even when Americans struggle in low wage jobs their enemies are not Chinese workers but the capitalist classes that exploit them. Another discussion on resistance against neoliberal politics in Quebec featured speakers exclusively equipped with Apples, never mind the fact the Foxconn Corp.’s Apple production facilities were widely denounced for suicides among its workers due to working conditions and labor laws violations.

U.S. Presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT)  © Kevin Lamarque

Anytime I asked about the choice of the conference venue or about Apple products I got uniform answer in return: "We all live in a capitalist system and have to play by its rules." Even now Karl Marx's take on commodity fetishism in Das Kapital is to the point: "A commodity appears at first sight an extremely obvious, trivial thing but its analysis brings out that it is a very strange thing abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties." Welcome to the new era of Consumer Socialist Realism where you can have the cake and eat it too (guilt and calorie free).

As the wave of comrades were leaving the conference venue to arrive at the Hyatt across the street, other large group of revelers, the Grateful Dead band crowd, was also leaving the "last, ever" concert at nearby Soldier's Field stadium. Ironically despite obvious age difference (hippies vs. hipsters) they both looked exactly the same as consumers of expired products reinforced by a shrewd business plan long after its founders passed on. Earlier that day I asked Bhaskar Sunkara of Jacobin about inconsistencies in messaging and actual practice that result in "revolutionaries" paying money to greedy capitalists (Hyatt) thus defeating the mission statement of worker's solidarity through action. "I know it is not going to sound good but I will tell you this, let them sell us enough rope to hang them," said Sunkara paraphrasing a famous quote by V.I. Lenin stating that the capitalists will sell the very instrument of their destruction. Contrary to his opinion, the only selling I saw at Socialism 2015 was done by its organizers and guest speakers and the product on offer was ‘hopium for better’, revolutionary tomorrow in the form of books and t-shirts. Cash, Visa, MasterCard and Amex were accepted. As for the hanging part as suggested by Sunkara, my humble idea for Socialism 2016 is to source an appropriately themed iPhone cover every revolutionary can hang around his/her/its (gender neutral) neck. Just don't call it after the Haymarket Seven.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.