Sore Winners: The Third Camp and the Legacy of American Stalinism

by David Duhalde

There are facts that only socialists believe are not common knowledge.  So, for the record, the Soviet Union was no paradise.  It morphed into a bureaucratic tyranny and abandoned the democratic rights necessary for any socialist society.

It also no longer exists.  

So if Stalinism has failed and been abandoned everywhere it was implemented, where does this leave the Third Camp socialists who were critical of both the Soviet Union and Western capitalism? It’s a group (with which I identify) that should feel vindicated. But more often than not, most within it have become something of a “sore winner.”

Consider the response by a vocal minority to Jacobin editor Bhaskar Sunkara’s obituary of Pete Seeger.  Sunkara’s less than 700-word article was critical of big-C communism, while attempting to redeem the legacy of its American rank and file. It  was well received and widely shared among the general public, but some deemed it insufficiently anti-Stalinist and ahistorical.  Dan LaBotz’s “Learn—Like Seeger Did—To Sing Another Tune” took such a stance.

LaBotz’s criticisms of Sunkara’s two paragraphs on Seeger’s party membership amounts to a nearly deadpan replica of Joe Glazer’s sectarian folk songs against the CPUSA. Those tunes, immortalized in Glazer’s “Ballads for Sectarians” album, humorously tackle the horrific betrayals of socialism that were committed by Stalin and his followers.  These tracks, however, do not pretend that only the Third Camp had a monopoly on grasping communist crimes.

The truth is that the vast majority of Americans have only a negative view of communism, even if they are open in certain ways to other forms of socialism. Certainly, many of them have no idea that the CPUSA was a force for social justice such as the civil rights and labor movements.  The Left needs a nuanced view of our history; one that can include that people praising an overall flawed institution for often doing good is acceptable, too.

The lesson was made clear to me after watching “I’m Not Rappaport.”  This movie, which paired the legendary actors Walter Matthau and Ossie Davis, partly focused on Nat Moyer’s (played by Matthau) participation in the labor movement as a communist.  After the movie, I made a dismissive comment about “old communists.”  My mother, a true small-d democrat and opponent of the Soviet system, scolded me.  She reminded me that communists made many sacrifices for social justice. 

New Politics never seems to have sufficiently learned that lesson. 

Today, we shouldn’t just lump 1940’s CPUSA members together like Tea Party activists might do with us and President Obama.  We also shouldn’t fall into what I call the “Irving Howe road to socialism”: the anarchic pastime of replacing a call to build a revolutionary party with a denunciation of Stalinism.

Just as most Americans wouldn’t believe the Party did any good, many would be confused about why some people are so bothered by two small paragraphs in an obituary.  As I wrote for DSA, it is critical that the radical left spend more time analyzing what we can do to build a movement today than arguing about unchangeable facts of history. 

We don’t need to make it harder to recruit people to the socialist movement by being so visibly hung up on history that has little impact on our work.  For the first time in my life, this is an exciting time to be a radical.  There are alternative forms of well-publicized organizing, younger and exciting intellectual publications like Jacobin, and a waning tolerance for redbaiting.  Why attenuate our recruiting potential with esoteric sectarian feuds? 

I think we should learn from both Pete Seeger and Joe Glazer.  Then maybe people can stop being like Bill Bailey.

 david-duhalde.jpgDavid Duhalde is the treasurer of Boston DSA and a member of DSA’s National Political Committee.

 

 

 Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership.

 

LGBT Activism: A Brief History with Thoughts about the Future

April 01, 2017
· 66 rsvps

Historian John D'Emilio's presentation will do 3 things: Provide a brief explanation of how sexual and gender identities have emerged; provide an overview of the progression of LGBT activism since its origins in the 1950s, highlighting key moments of change; and, finally, suggest what issues, from a democratic socialist perspective, deserve prioritizing now. John co-authored Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America, which was quoted by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision that ruled state sodomy laws unconstitutional. 1 pm ET; 12 pm CT; 11 am MT; 10 am PT.

  1. This webinar is free for any DSA member in good standing.
  2. You need a computer with good internet access.
  3. Your computer must have headphones (preferred) or speakers; you can speak thru a mic or use chat to "speak".
  4. If you have questions, contact Peg Strobel, peg.strobel@sbcglobal.net.
  5. If you have technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt, schmittaj@gmail.com, 608-355-6568.

Film Discussion: Documentaries of People's History in Texas

April 02, 2017
· 30 rsvps

Join DSA members Glenn Scott and Richard Croxdale to discuss videos produced by People’s History in Texas (PHIT), a project that brings to life the stories of ordinary people in significant socio-political movements in Texas. They will discuss The Rag, their newest documentary, which tells the story of an influential underground paper based in Austin, Texas, from 1966-77. Click here to view Part I (the early years as an all-volunteer paper covering the student, anti-Vietnam and Civil Rights movements), Part II (the impact of Women’s Liberation on the paper) and Part III (building community: covering local politics, nukes, co-ops, feminist institutions). But also check out the video on the Stand-Ins about a group of university students who led a movement to desegregate Austin’s movie theaters in 1961. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT. Here's a blog post about PHIT.

Introduction to Democratic Socialism

April 04, 2017
· 85 rsvps

Join Rahel Biru, NYC DSA co-chair, and Joseph Schwartz, DSA Vice-Chair, on this webinar for an overview of what we in Democratic Socialists of America mean when we talk about "socialism," "capitalism" and the goals of the socialist movement.  9 PM ET; 8 PM CT; 7 PM MT; 6 PM PT.

  1. This webinar is free for any DSA member in good standing.
  2. You need a computer with good internet access.
  3. Your computer must have headphones (preferred) or speakers; you can speak thru a mic or use chat to "speak".
  4. If you have questions, contact Joseph Schwartz, schwartzjoem@gmail.com.
  5. If you have technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt, schmittaj@gmail.com, 608-355-6568.

What Is DSA? Training Call

April 05, 2017
· 9 rsvps

If you're a new DSAer, have been on a new member call, but still have questions about DSA's core values/strategy/core work and how to express these ideas in an accessible way to the media, as well as to friends, family and others who might be interested in joining DSA, this call is for you. 

We will talk through the basics of DSA's political orientation and strategy for moving toward democratic socialism, and also have call participants practice discussing these issues with each other. By the end of the call you should feel much more comfortable thinking about and expressing what DSA does and what makes our organization/strategy unique. 8 pm ET; 7 pm CT; 6 pm MT; 5 pm PT. 70 minutes.

Feminist Working Group

April 12, 2017
· 28 rsvps

People of all genders are welcome to join this call to discuss DSA's work on women's and LGBTQ issues, especially in light of the new political reality that we face after the elections.  9 pm ET; 8 pm CT; 7 pm MT; 6 pm PT.

DSA New Member Orientation Call

April 16, 2017
· 23 rsvps

You've joined DSA - Great. Now register for this New Member Orientation call and find out more about our politics and our vision.  And, most importantly, how you can become involved.  8 pm ET; 7 pm CT; 6 pm MT; 5 pm PT.

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
· 10 rsvps

Join Victoria Bynum, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, Texas State University, San Marcos, to discuss The Free State of Jones. STX Entertainment bought the film rights to Bynum's book of the same title. She also served as a consultant and appears in a cameo scene. What was the Free State of Jones? During the Civil War, an armed band of deserters led by Newt Knight, a non-slaveholding white farmer, took to the swamps of southeastern Mississippi and battled against the Confederacy in an uprising popularly known as “The Free State of Jones.” Joining Newt in this rebellion was Rachel, a slave. From their relationship, there developed a controversial mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended. View the film here for $6 before the discussion. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.