The Dream Café

Steven Brust: “A masterful storyteller of contagious glee and self-deprecating badassery” —Skyler White

18 March 2019
by skzb


WHEREAS I have an inexhaustible appetite for sitting around with people and talking about the craft of writing, and
WHEREAS It turns out I’m not the only one with this peculiarity, and
WHEREAS That’s a good thing, because it’s hard to have these conversations by myself, and
WHEREAS I am obviously insane,

THEREFORE Be it resolved that, god help me, we’re launching a convention. Small, craft-oriented, single-track programming, here in Minneapolis, July 12-14 of this year. I’m doing the programming, Jane Hawkner is onboard for the web site, Liz Vogel is running the thing. Take a look, see if you want to make it there, or even help us make the thing a go. And, if you’re so inclined, help spread the word about this gobbler.  Also, let me know if there are any obvious errors on the web site, or anything missing that ought to be there.  Thanks!

Here’s a link to the location and other relevant information.

28 February 2019
by skzb

Am I a Democratic Socialist?

I can think of four things that term might mean; if someone knows of others, I’d like to hear them.
1. A supporter of the Social Democratic Parties, aka the Second International, whence came all of today’s Labor Parties. They were famous for achieving important reforms and sending the workers of “their” country off to slaughter workers from other countries in the name of increased profit for “their” capitalists.  Also famous for competing with Stalinism over who has done the most within the workers movement to preserve capitalism. They are rotten through and through. No, I’m not one.
2. Someone who believes the Scandinavian countries are socialist (hint: this requires not living there) and/or believes in a “mixed” economy, which essentially means a kindlier, gentler capitalism. The idea that now, when capitalism is utterly rotten and threatening global catastrophe, and must use every form of depravity and violence to preserve itself, to ask it to be more gentle is, in my opinion, suicidal. As overt white supremacists and fascists revive as defenders of capitalism, this kind of activity strikes me as nothing short of presenting our throats to the wolves.
3. Someone who is in favor of socialism, but either believes, or only supports socialism “insofar as,” it can be achieved electorally. History has taught us a hundred hundred times that ruling classes do not give up their power unless forced to do so, and will destroy democratic forms in a heartbeat if they see that as the only way to preserve their privileges. The state serves the ruling class—that is why it is a ruling class—and a capitalist society means capitalists are the ruling class. They will not go down willingly any more than the slave oligarchy in the US South was willing to. That the economic system they based themselves on was thoroughly rotten and unsustainable only made them more desperate. That’s how it works.
4. Someone who believes, first, that the fight to preserve what democratic rights we still have requires a fight for socialism, second, that socialism is, in fact, democracy consistently applied, and, third, in fighting for a society based on democratic workers control of the state, and of production. By this definition, and only by this definition, could I be called a democratic socialist.

8 February 2019
by skzb

A Blatant Commercial Moment, But Not For Me

Back In the Day when FullTilt Poker was going, I played on it a lot.  I miss those days. I built a $10 initial investment into about $1500 (and got fucktons of writing done at the same time; how cool is that?). Mostly, I played small “Sit and Go” tournaments.  I’m a long, long way from the best tournament poker player you’ll meet, but I am a consistent winner.  Because I was taught to be, mostly by two people: Adam Stemple and Chris “Pokerfox” Wallace–who, by the way, wrote an excellent book together that I can’t recommend too highly.

Okay, so, the commercial part of this:   Chris is teaching a master class in tournament poker.  Rack rate is $300, but you can get it down to $180 by using the code “foxdreamcafe”.  It is worthwhile if and only if you are serious about tournament poker.

Here is where to find it.

End of commercial.  I now return you to your regularly scheduled political rants and writing natter.


23 January 2019
by skzb

The Stalinist School of Internal Debate

It’s been a long time since the Communist Party has been a strong force within the American labor movement, so it seems worthwhile to review a few things that have been largely forgotten. As the influence of Stalin grew within the international movement (the Third International, or Comintern) beginning in 1924, the changes, though gradual, were profound: the interest of the working class began, more and more, to be subordinate to the interests of Stalin and the bureaucratic clique of which he stood at the head.

The prestige of the Communist Party came from its role in 1917 in leading the Russian working class to power, a tremendous inspiration to workers in, literally, every country in the world. Working against that tradition, while simultaneously attempting to keep the loyalty of millions upon millions of workers who were inspired by the party of Lenin, produced some remarkable pathologies.

The Left Opposition (later the Fourth International) worked to expose this contradiction, and to show where the activities and program and methods of the Stalinists worked against the interests of the working class. Over time, the best, the most intellectually honest members (I say with pride that this includes my father) were won over to the Left Opposition.

The arguments of the Trotskyists were necessarily reflected within the Communist Party itself, requiring that the arguments be answered.  These “answers” took the form of rote recitals (which changed quite drastically as the interests of the Kremlin changed: Trotskyism was officially denounced as “ultra-left” which changed to “fascist” literally overnight, then went through other changes). These rote recitals were followed by a system of suppressing dissent within the party.  In the Soviet Union itself, this suppression took the form of midnight visits from the Cheka followed by exile, prison, or murder.  Lacking state power, the other sections of the Comintern had to find other methods of keep party members in line, of using their commitment to equality, to the rights of the working class, to prevent any examination of how best to carry out those goals.

That is the origin of the Stalin School of Party debate, and, though the Communist Party in the US is, at this moment, isolated and largely ineffective, and though no longer directed specifically against Trotskyism, the method of “debate” of international Stalinism, still lingers.  That makes it worth a moment to review. It was present in the CP press, and in large conferences, but most often found expression in the meeting of local Party branches. It worked like this:

1) Someone is accused of the grievous crime of Trotskyism or being soft on Trotskyism, or perhaps saying something that indicates that there is something worse than Trotskyism or bringing up a point that sounds too much like one of the points Trotskyists bring up.

2) The accused is then permitted to speak and apologize for this crime.

3) Those in charge (usually whoever is the leader of that Party branch) then decide if this apology is acceptable, that is, if the individual is sufficiently contrite, and has apologized enough, and put his apology in the proper form.  There were various pieces of that, including praise for Stalin, denunciation of one’s self,  often going further than the original accusations in speaking of one’s own depravity, followed by the promise to do better.  If this apology and ritual self-humiliation is accepted, the accused receives some level of forgiveness, though, of course, he can never be fully trusted again.

4) If the apology is deemed insufficient, everyone present must dutifully attack the offender, speaking from a position of deep moral outrage. Any defense made by the accused is cause for still further, deeper, and more profound attacks, because your unwillingness to recognize the “Trotskyite” influence in yourself means you are deliberately attempting to “sabotage the Party” with these influences. Should anyone be so rash as to defend the accused, or attempt to soften the attacks on the accused, go to step 1 with this person as the accused.

5) Eventually, the accused is either sufficiently humiliated, or makes a sufficiently abject apology, to be forgiven, at least provisionally; or else, if not, is expelled from the Party and shunned by all loyal Party members, after which the remaining Party members congratulate themselves on a job well done.  Those who have doubts about what just happened keep these doubts to themselves, either because they still believe in the ultimate goal and accept that such methods are “necessary,” or simply out of fear of immense social pressure to conform.

Some discussion of this method can be found in the work of James P. Cannon, one of the founders of American Trotskyism (a quick google search of Cannon’s work didn’t bring up anything on line, but I’ve read about it in his work).

This method, to be clear, was neither invented by nor is it confined to the Stalinists: they simply brought it to new heights of formality and rigor.  But any movement defined by political bankruptcy on the one hand, and the sacrificing of the search for truth at the altar of social acceptance on the other, is likely to find itself using these methods, until what remains are quasi-political automatons repeating formulas and attempting to outdo each other in their protestations of loyalty to the Accepted Ideology. It is a good thing to be aware of.

5 January 2019
by skzb

Liberalism Then and Now

Classical liberalism, in the sense of the liberalism of the 18th and 19th Centuries, was a powerfully progressive force. It was the ideological expression of the need of the bourgeoisie to put paid to the social-political vestiges of kings and aristocrats and to create a society in it’s own image, and one in which the repressive power of the state could be reduced to the minimum necessary. Thus liberals fought, often with great success, for universal suffrage, formal equality before the law, freedom of expression, improvements in the status of women, a military under civilian control, and limitation of police powers. All good things, compared to what had gone before.
A progressive ideology that basis itself on a progressive economic system becomes reactionary when that system has exhausted itself.  Compare the progressive role of Christianity in the fight against the Roman slave system to Catholicism’s reactionary role during the downfall of the feudal monarchies.  In the same way, when capitalism itself became reactionary—that is, when it could no longer maintain itself without massive wars and destruction of infrastructure and ever-increasing measures of repression to defend its ever-greater difficulties in distributing human wants (wealth inequality)—liberalism transformed from a progressive ideology to one that simply provided a cover for the worst crimes of capitalism. 
We could look at the criminal role of liberalism in the Russian revolution, or its craven role Germany in the 30s, but really, we don’t have to look any further than the US. From the massive labor battles of the 1930s to the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 60s, liberalism in the form of its official spokesmen (politicians and journalists) has specialized in fighting tooth-and-nail against any moves toward equality, and, insofar as their efforts failed, loudly claiming credit for instituting them.  It’s like. after being robbed at gunpoint, you bragged about your generous donation.  When the US ruling elite needs to take a repressive step but fears that its “right-wing” elements will generate too much popular outrage, it turns to its “left-wing” side to carry it out.  We all remember how it turned to Obama to cut SNAP benefits, protect Wall Street gangsters, launch new wars, and begin a massive assault on immigrants.  Going further back, it was the “New Deal” Roosevelt who asked congress for the right to draft striking workers and force them to labor.  The “Fair Deal” Truman invoked Taft-Hartley 12 times within the first year of its passage.  Permit me to quote from Labor’s Giant Step by Art Preis:
“It is an irrefutable fact that the New Deal-Fair Deal liberals were the chief authors and sponsors of the first federal laws to (1) make mere opinion a crime (the Smith Act of 1940, rushed through by a Democratic Congress and signed by President Roosevelt); (2) establish concentration (detention) camps in America where political dissenters can be imprisoned without trial during “national emergency” (McCaarran-Kilgore Internal Security Act of 1950); and (3) outlaw a political party (Communist Control Act of 1954).”
The last, by the way, was sponsored by Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey, who “won his spurs” by collaborating with the Stalinists to destroy the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party.
In the end, the first and third of these acts were used (with, it must be admitted, the cooperation of the union bureaucrats) to essentially neuter the American union movement and leave it helpless in the face of the massive, direct attacks on the unions that began under Reagan.
Today, what goes under the name of liberalism directs its energy toward preventing independent action of the working class, spreading ignorance, sowing division, and, above all, trying to convince us that the hollow shell of liberalism is the only alternative to the even more reactionary elements.
Heads up: it isn’t.