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Monday, November 19, 2018


how skillful Nancy Pelosi, read this story, reporting that Ocasio-Cortez is now backing Pelosi.  It is this skill we need to translate an electoral victory into real results.


Jerry Fresia said...

Ocasio-Cortez has been moderating ever since her primary win. She quickly backed off her critique of Israel and has supported both Schumer and Cuomo. She was not part of the new progressive coalition that stepped forward as challengers of Pelosi. So I fail to see Pelosi's charming of the star struck Ocasio-Cortez as evidence of progress. What "real results" do you have in mind?

Anonymous said...

Here's another perspective on what's happening vis-a-vis Pelosi:

Paul said...

Man--for someone who talks left on abstract political issues, you really talk center on concrete ones.

Jerry Fresia said...

Given that this blog has passed, I don't feel self-indulgent in posting a second time:

David P., if you are there, this is a much better article that explains how Pelosi's proposal, ostensibly to protect the bottom 80% of Americans from tax increases, has the effect of ruling out medicare for all as well as attempts to bolster social security - at the same time that it probably would not block increased military spending.

Second, Code Pink will be protesting, at Pelosi's office among others, the US support for Saudi bombing of Yemen which has pushed 14 million innocent people to the brink of starvation. (For more than three years, the US has provided intelligence, arms and mid-air refueling for the Saudi-led bombing campaign as it has hit hospitals, weddings and schools—and killed tens of thousands). As evidence of her immense institutional skill, the most powerful Democrat in the House, has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

My guess is that the people who are behind this agita are familiar with the graphic images of starvation coming out of Yemen and Pelosi's unwillingness to raise her voice in opposition.

Bottom line: Pelosi, in terms of major policy ("I don’t think Democrats want a new direction," December 2016), is to the right of most Americans. When I think of translating this electoral victory into real results I can't help but think of the banks, private (health) insurance companies, and high tech donors that support her. I'm open to a more generous interpretation if there is one.

Anonymous said...

Professor Wolff,

Explain how Pelosi deserves anything other than prison for the following:

(Paul is right, for a marxist anarchist blog, everything becomes centrist real fast around here)

s. wallerstein said...

I believe that Professor Wolff's position (which is not mine) is that Trump and Trumpism are so dangerous that we should support any centrist Democrat in order to win back the presidency and both houses of Congress. That position, the United Front against fascism, has a long history on the left, for example, that of Communist Parties during the 1930's faced with the rise of Hitler, and certainly is consistent with a Marxist perspective.

Anonymous said...

Right, but there's a gulf of difference between SUPPORTING a candidate, and admitting STRATEGIC reasons for backing a candidate. Pelosi does not deserve praise, compliments, or vocal support. Whether or not she deserves strategic backing is another issue. For example, it may well be fine to strategically vote Clinton into office, but that's hardly the same thing as singing her praises. Professor Wolff is doing the latter, and ignores all criticisms which point out how much of a draconian monster Pelosi really is. I suspect he will never read the articles linked, nor respond to the substance contained in them.

Jerry Fresia said...

To the Above Comrades Who Hate Pelosi:

1. I hate Pelosi too.
2. We are all Comrades, the Professor included.
3. What are we Pelosi haters missing in this discussion? Given that the concept of things aesthetic has been used often in this blog to great effect, I was thinking today of what I will call the aesthetic of "liberatory frisson" - those masterful spoken or written words that cut through all the BS, indict an evil doer, and simultaneously clear the way for truth, justice, and the socialist way. Here's the problem: we comrades may each have differing, maybe even competing, senses of this kind of aesthetic.
4. When last I taught full time in the 80s (my Che days, paying no heed to career considerations), I would sometimes bring to class blown up photos of the slaughter inflicted upon the Sandinista peasants (with whom I had picked cotton for a time) by the US backed Contras, in order to pull back the curtain and guilt trip the sons and daughters (UCSC) of wealthy elites. Okay. Maybe that sort of classroom wasn't my thing. But what to do to expose power and awaken a sense of responsibility?
5. Then there are great teachers. Malcom X, James Baldwin, even, dare I say Chris Hedges - whose eloquence, rhythm, and ability to find LE MOT JUSTE [:)] creates in me that aesthetic in which I feel charged up, alive, vital, hopeful, a bit more sane, clear, and ready to act to make the world better.
6. There is another writer, too, who creates that liberatory frisson within me. Robert Paul Wolff.
7. I was nearly tempted in one of the above comments to link to the images I found when I googled "starvation, Yemen." Old habits die hard. But who am I to instruct? Suffice to say that when I see those images and think of that multi-millionaire Pelosi's ( the most powerful person in the House) failure to respond, to say a peep, I feel revulsion toward her.
8. Finally, I suspect that the Professor is on a different track, appreciating Pelosi's skill in navigating through the labyrinths of power. No doubt an aesthetic there, a liberatory frisson too that is worth understand.

Anonymous said...

Regarding 8, the task of a morally inclined activist isn't to navigate institutions of corrupt power with integrity, but to dismantle them.

MS said...

To Anonymous above, who asks how Pelosi deserves anything other than prison for her position regarding the NSA, you may have meant your question as ideological hyperbole, but, nonetheless, to suggest that individuals deserve nothing less than prison for their political beliefs is a dangerous point of view, whether on the left or on the right. It is no different than Il Duce’s calls for “Lock Her Up,” greeted with shouts of adulation from his adoring fans. And the fact that you apparently don’t see that is disturbing. The history of political prisoners in both fascist and communist countries (read, e.g., Koestler’s Darkness at Noon) is not something that we should be applauding or emulating.

s. wallerstein said...

"Regarding 8, the task of a morally inclined activist isn't to navigate institutions of corrupt power with integrity, but to dismantle them"

If you believe that you're defending the institutions of the Weimar Republic against the coming of the 3rd Reich, it doesn't really matter how corrupt they are because it's evident that they are a whole lot better than those of the 3rd Reich.

The analogy is not perfect, I know, and I myself don't see Trump as the 3rd Reich, but some do and while I don't agree with them completely, I wouldn't dismiss them out of hand.

Jerry Fresia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jerry Fresia said...


I don't disagree. That would be my first impulse. But then again, you and I wouldn't be Speaker for very long.


I don't think Pelosi, as well as other major US political figures, would incur criminal liability because of their ideology - that's something that seems to be reserved for Whistle Blowers, despite the concoction of formal charges. Those bearing responsibility for crimes against humanity, however, might just well extend into Congressional leadership positions were Nuremberg standards ever invoked.

MS said...


Your reference to whistleblowers being subject to charges for divulging confidential NSA information, i.e., Edward Snowden. while the Congressional supporters of the legislation authorizing the NSA to conduct surveillance on the American people proceed w/ impunity, i.e., Pelosi, elides the complexity of the issues you propose to be addressing – a habit, frankly, I have found in a number of your comments.

I agree Snowden deserves our gratitude and commendation for what he did. However, your comparison of Snowden being charged w/ a crime, a violation of the Espionage Act, is not the same as Anonymous’ call for Pelosi’s imprisonment based solely on what he regards as her reprehensible legislative history. Snowden has been charged; but he has been neither tried nor convicted. Anonymous is proposing jailing Pelosi w/ neither a criminal charge nor a trial. Not quite the American way. Moreover, Snowden has what I would regard as a winnable defense. His legal representative wrote "the Espionage Act effectively hinders a person from defending himself before a jury in an open court." She said the "arcane World War I law" was never meant to prosecute whistleblowers, but rather spies who sold secrets to enemies for profit. But this is the winning argument. There is no evidence Snowden acted out of an urge for profit, or that he sold any U.S. secrets. An experienced criminal trial attorney would have a good shot at winning an acquittal on a request for a directed verdict after the prosecution had put it in its case w/o any evidence satisfying either of these essential elements. I would agree miscarriages of justice do occur (see my comment in the next post), and there is no 100% guarantee Snowden would win. But Martin Luther King maintained if you are going to break the law out of a commitment to conscientious beliefs, then you must be willing to fight the unjust criminal charges in a court of law and suffer the consequences. Snowden is unwilling to do so, even though, as I say, he has a viable defense.

Your suggestion that if the Nuremberg trial standards were invoked, legislators whom you accuse of committing crimes against humanity, e.g., Pelosi, might be subject to prosecution is also an exercise in obscurantism. Putting aside whether the claim Pelosi’s support of the NSA could possibly constitute a crime against humanity, rather than an indefensible invasion of the privacy of Americans, during the entirety of WWII, the German Reichstag continued to operate, rubber-stamping everything Hitler proposed. Yet, during the Nuremberg trials, not a single member of the Reichstag was charged. All of those charged were either participants in what may be referred to as the executive of the Nazi regime, members of the military who implemented Hitler’s orders, or part of the propaganda machine which disseminated his foul views. You can check the names and functions of all of the individuals who were charged and tried here – not a single one was a legislator in the Reichstag: The only trials that did not involve members of the executive, military, or propaganda machine were the Nuremberg Judges Trials, depicted in the movie Judgment at Nuremberg.

Why did the Nuremberg tribunal not charge members of the legislature? This is just conjecture on my part, but I suppose the tribunal reasoned, in terms of culpability, passing legislation is ineffectual without members of the executive, military, press and judiciary who are responsible for effectuating the legislation. Would you prosecute all the Congressmen and Senators who voted for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution? And where would it stop – how about all of the Americans who voted for those legislators, and who continued to support them even after it had been disclosed the incident justifying the resolution had never occurred?

s. wallerstein said...

Granted that under Nuremberg standards Pelosi would not be subject to prosecution, she seems to be complicit in numerous unethical behaviors.

Heidegger was forbidden to teach philosophy by the Allied occupation for a few years. Then the denazification process determined that he was a "follower" of Nazism, not an "offender," and he was allowed to teach again. In the denazification process there were five levels of complicity in the 3rd Reich: major offenders, offenders, minor offenders, followers and exonerated person.

Pelosi would probably be seen as an offender if we use those criteria.

Anonymous said...

"for their political beliefs"
Uh, are you serious? The article wasn't about her BELIEFS, it was about her instrumental role in creating a state oversight apparatus tantamount to 1984. That you twisted the article and my sentiments into one of supposedly wanting to jail people for beliefs and speech (I would never) shows the ideological hyperbole is on your end.

Anonymous said...

Those who do what the articles I linked to say they did are the ones moving us closer to the third reich, and not 'defending' the weimar republic against its perversion, at least in your analogy.

MS said...

In order for the hierarchy of offenses in the de-Nazification program referred to by s. wallerstein to apply, there has to be a predicate of egregious governmental action to justify the categorization. That predicate in the case of the Nazis was their invasion of Poland, their subsequent conduct of WWII, and the Holocaust. I do not see anything like that with respect to U.S. foreign policy – including Iraq. However, even if we were to regard the invasion of Iraq as an appropriate predicate, Pelosi in fact voted against the invasion – she was not complicit in it.

I read the articles that you referenced. They indicated that Pelosi in fact voted against reauthorization of the Patriot Act because of its provisions allowing for surveillance of American citizens. And your statement that Pelosi, by her support for the NSA legislation, is one of those “moving us closer to the third reich” is a sign of historical astigmatism. Do you have any idea what legislation was passed by the Reichstag that led to the Holocaust? Does your statement take into account Pelosi’s persistent opposition to Il Duce’s draconian immigration policies? Or her indefatigable efforts to get Obamacare passed?

What you are proposing is the jailing of Pelosi (w/ or w/o trial?) for her legislative actions. But persecution for one’s “political beliefs” does not mean persecution for the beliefs one contemplates in one’ head – it refers to persecution for the political beliefs that one acts on, therefore it is for persecution for political conduct based on one’s beliefs, not the thought alone, again, perhaps too subtle a difference for you to understand. Jailing Pelosi for her legislative conduct would constitute incarceration for her political beliefs – something that should make you feel at home with Il Duce’s rabid followers screaming “Lock Her Up!” This is the kind of persecution for one’s political beliefs that Stalin conducted against Zinoviev and Kamenev for their political beliefs, and resulting conduct, in support of Trotsky in the Moscow Trials of 1936-38, and against Bukharin during the Trial of the Twenty-One during the Great Purge of 1938, something you also obviously know nothing about. You can read about it in Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon (No. 8 on the Modern Library’s list of the 100 best English language novels of the 20th century).

And what I say about your being at home w/ Il Duce’s rabid fans I do not say in jest. What troubles me about a lot of the comments that I see on this blog is an inability by those on the supposedly progressive left to make nuanced analytical differences between modes of thought and conduct. And I fear that, were you to succeed in overcoming the crazies on the right, you would replace them w/ crazies on the left. Any political ideology, carried to extremes, can lead to fascism. There is such a thing as a fascism of the left, and it is no improvement over fascism of the right.

s. wallerstein said...


I've had the same argument with my son.

He claims that there are leftwing fascists. I say that you can find Stalinists on the left and you can find many examples of what Adorno calls "the authoritarian personality", but not fascists.

This is a philosophy blog, so why don't we use the term "fascist" as precisely as possible?

MS said...

s. wallerstein,

I am responding to your comment knowledgeable that you and I may run the risk of being accused of dominating the comment section of this blog w/ our self-indulgent effluvia.

My online dictionary defines “fascism” as follows: ( sometimes initial capital letter ) a governmental system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism, regimenting all industry, commerce, etc., and emphasizing an aggressive nationalism and often racism.

Clearly, a fascism of the left could exhibit all of the above characteristics up to “emphasizing aggressive nationalism and often racism.” You appear to exclude the latter features as possible characteristics of an authoritarian government dominated by progressive liberals. Why? Is it beyond the realm of possibility that progressive liberals could also be nationalists and/or racists? I do not see why. Christopher Hitchens, no right wing partisan, for example, before he passed away, was accused of being racist for his derogatory views regarding radical Islam.

Moreover, as you point out, this is a philosophy blog. Anyone who has studied linguistics can tell you that the meanings of words evolve to reflect cultural changes. If, for example, the meaning of the word “marriage,” once restricted during our lifetime to refer exclusively to the nuptials between individuals of different genders, now encompasses nuptials between individuals of the same gender (thereby, as I have pointed out in a previous comment taking the punch out of the final punch line in Some Like It Hot), why can’t the word “fascist” refer to both right and left wing oriented authoritarian regimes?. I suspect that Wittgenstein, who wrote about the different kinds of activities that qualify as games, would have no problem allowing the word “fascist” to apply to right and left wing authoritarian governments.