The rise and fall of Van Jones

obama-jones1This recent unsurprising resignation of White House official Van Jones brought back memories of my days at Yale Law School. Back then we knew him as Van “the Man” Jones who strode around the law school with more attitude than substance. But some people are really into attitude these days and when one looks back at the rocket like ascension of Jones it is hard to know how else to explain his success in reaching the inner circle of the White House.

Certainly there is little content – from a genuine democratic left perspective – in the mantra of “Green Jobs.” Why exactly will it be better for workers to hammer out hybrids than combustion engine cars? Will they be paid better? Will auto jobs return to the US? Will they recover the lost middle class life of the 1950s and 1960s? Will their union recover its lost place at the seat of power in American life?

Very unlikely. Does that mean that there is not a serious environmental problem? Of course not. But how many inner city residents are willing to go off and live in Oklahoma or Nebraska or wherever it is these wind farms are going to be built? I bet the largely white laid-off oil workers beat them to the punch.

Jones’ “genius” was that he placed himself at the cross roads of the emerging so-called Blue-Green Alliance – advocating training for unemployed workers in largely poor urban areas in newly emerging industries. But the number of such jobs actually created and secured is likely in the dozens or hundreds at most, at least in the Bay Area where Jones was based before decamping for D.C. Even the well-funded and popular Tesla electric auto company is having trouble getting a plant opened anywhere near Silicon Valley.

In any case, the building trades and electrical power industry unions have well established training programs that will generate the workforce – unionized – that is needed when or if such an industry actually gets off the ground. Of course, Jones was a self-styled “r-r-revolutionary” so working inside the labor movement did not appeal to him (though to its credit the Baker Center now does have some relationship to organized labor).  In fact, in his book Green Collar Economy, Jones speaks of the labor movement in the past tense.

To think that Jones’ motive was to be a real environmentalist is to ignore his decade of street activism including his membership in a sect called STORM – Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement, some kind of a weird reincarnation of late 60s third worldist maoism, as far as I can figure out. Far from dropping his “communist” politics (and I use the term reluctantly since I am fairly sure Jones has not the slightest clue about communism) he made it clear that he moved into environmentalism as a new base of operations for his “revolutionary” politics.

And there of course he likely met other like minded souls – such as Carl Davidson and Jeff Jones, 60s generation neo-stalinist comrades of people like Bill Ayers, Bernardine Dohrn and Mike Klonsky.  Jeff Jones and Davidson are also active members in the so-called Blue-Green Alliance – Jones through the Apollo Alliance (of which the Baker Center founded by Van Jones was a part) and Davidson through his Solidarity Economy group. Perhaps Davidson or Jeff Jones introduced Van Jones to the Obama circle that included, of course, Ayers and Dohrn.

To understand Jones, in fact, one need look no further than the career trajectory of someone like Bill Ayers – who left behind his days as a violent pseudo-left wing thug and became, of all things, a professor of education. But that did not stop him from publicly advocating the politics of other violent pseudo-left wing thugs, like Hugo Chavez.  Jones of course never really left behind his maoist politics, he just went to swim among the fish in the sea, as the maoists used to put it, by joining the environmental movement.

That Barack Obama could view a relationship with Ayers and Jones as somehow the way to move forward in American political life is surely one of the continuing puzzles of the current era. But that is really just parlor talk.

The real problem for the genuine democratic left is to comprehend how in the late 60s it let people like Ayers highjack a healthy vibrant civil rights and antiwar movement through SDS and now once again is allowing maoists like Jones to portray themselves as representing a new generation of activism on important issues such as war, the economy and the environment. To solve that problem requires substance not attitude.