Friday, May 13, 2016

How should we think?---Part 8---Slogans

Lenin provided this summary of Marx when he wrote about insurrection:

"(1) Never play with insurrection, but when beginning it realise firmly that you must go all the way.

(2) Concentrate a great superiority of forces at the decisive point and at the decisive moment, otherwise the enemy, who has the advantage of better preparation and organisation, will destroy the insurgents.

(3) Once the insurrection has begun, you must act with the greatest determination, and by all means, without fail, take the of offensive. "The defensive is the death of every armed rising.'

(4) You must try to take the enemy by surprise and seize the moment when his forces are scattered.

(5) You must strive for daily successes, however small (one might say hourly, if it is the case of one town), and at all costs retain 'moral superiority'."

We continue here with our series on thinking and our turn from basic philosophical principles to how these principles can be put into practice and understood through practice. The quote given above will serve as a point of departure to the extent that it can be modified and understood as practical advice for political movements and activists today. In this post we are looking at slogans and what they represent. This post is aimed at the more politically engaged people who have experience in making social change.

We do not think of slogans as a substitute for thinking and practice. Every slogan has be to be critically examined in light of the lived experiences of the people and the paths forward from the present to the future. Having a good or correct slogan doesn't get you very far if you can't back it up by doing something. After developing a slogan and putting it into practice the slogan and the practice need to be reevaluated and changes need to be made, and we then need to think, test and make changes. An effective slogan positively affects the quantity and quality of the forces at work in a given situation. This is, in a crude way, an example of how dialectical materialism informs our work.

I want to repeat this point that slogans are not a substitute for thinking and practice and approach it from another side as well. There is a tendency in the labor movement to mobilize people and give them signs to hold with neatly compacted slogans on them. If you question the person holding the sign you often find that the union has not fully engaged the person holding the sign, that they don't understand the slogan's full meaning and implications. The slogan is substituting for dialogue and popular education. Questioning the content of the slogan is understood by the union "leadership" as a sign of disloyalty. This is all bad on many levels, but perhaps the worst aspects are labor's refusal to use popular education models and the assumption that "ordinary people" cannot be fully engaged on important issues. In line with this, I believe that anyone who tries to convince you that you cannot understand something is not your friend or ally.

Correct or good slogans capture what the people are thinking and give expression to our needs and hopes. Incorrect or bad slogans either take people backwards or are so far in advance of the peoples' legitimate aspirations at a particular moment that they work to discourage people from attempting to change things or leave them confused or subvert their efforts entirely. In any case, a movement's or party's slogans tell us if they are behind, with or in advance of the people and the workers---the core forces who are the very heart of society and, therefore, the forces necessary to make social change. Slogans and the political forces behind them have to express a desire, a need, a demand and have to show a way forward from the here-and-now to the future. Peoples' and workers' movements naturally develop slogans, and this marks an important difference between the Sanders movement and the Clinton campaign.

We have already seen where Spirkin approaches this problem and says, "The difference between the scientific understanding of the relationship between possibility and reality and the fatalistic notion, which identifies possibility and necessity, lies in the fact that a real possibility is regarded not as an inevitability but as a transformation that presupposes the influence of accidents, deviations, and the struggle of opposing forces. Not everything that is necessary is possible...Reasonable people usually avoid talking about unlikely possibilities and leave that to the so-called "pub politicians", who comfort themselves with all kinds of pipe dreams. Wisdom does not allow itself to be tempted by unlikely possibilities. It keeps its feet firmly in reality. Reason is, in fact, the ability to set attainable goals. In life there are plenty of sayings that express the common people's contempt for vague possibilities, such as "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush"...A correct understanding of the categories of possibility and reality, the relation of the real and the unlikely possibility is important both in theory and practice. It is often vital for us to be able to perceive the beginnings of something within something else that possesses potential of further development...Knowledge of real possibilities, of opportunities, inspires hope. But when people hope for good weather or a win in the state lottery, such hopes have no effect on the outcome. There are different kinds of hope; there is a kind of hope that encourages and warms the heart and thus becomes an ideal motive force for certain actions that lead to its realisation."

Some examples of good and correct slogans are:

* "Be bad, be bad, be bad, be bad! Can't get nothin' if you ain't bad!"---This slogan or chant came from the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement of the late '60s and early '70s. The slogan takes us to the point of negation because it arose as part of a rebellion in the auto plants against the speed-up system and against a complacent union leadership, but it also takes us to a point of affirmation as a part of DRUM's socialist organizing.

* "Black Lives Matter!"---This affirms the humanity of Black people while negating the forces which deny Black humanity and humanism. Humanism experiences its own contradictions as well. The "I Can't Breathe" and "Black Power" slogans likewise express contradictions between Black humanity and humanism and the forces which attempt to negate them.

* "Sí, se puede!"---This expresses human ability and agency while negating the forces which hold humanity back. It captures revolutionary optimism correctly. The Italian Communist Gramsci said, "Pessimism of the spirit; optimism of the will."

* "Feel the Bern"---If this is limited to a campaign slogan then it is only that. But if it is used to encourage people to join a movement which puts people before profits then it is a unitary slogan which gives us a partial path forward. It has limitations and a shelf-life, but it now generally expresses a deep-felt democratic desire present among the people.

* "Tell me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!"---This chant at demonstrations almost always helps people realize their power and broaden their concepts of democracy. It is a here-and-now slogan.

* "The people united will never be defeated!"---This slogan connects us with a radical past, puts human will at the forefront and has cultural applications.

* "Money for jobs and education, not for wars and occupation!"---This slogan expresses an achievable demand and a path forward.

* "People and nature before profits!"---This expresses a complex demand in a few words and the contradiction between people and the environment, on the one hand, and capitalism. See here and here for contrasting views on this question.

* "$15 Now and a union!"---This slogan puts forward a demand, shows a path forward and challenges unions to organize workers.

* "Out of the closets and into the streets!"---This slogan comes from gay liberation. It demands action and bravery. It brings to mind the saying attributed to Mao that "Marxism comprises many principles, but in the final analysis they can all be brought back to a single sentence: it is right to rebel."

* "Mujer sea libre!"---This speaks to the contradiction between men and women and encourages the development of women as revolutionary subjects, as the force and reason of revolution. It connect us to the Kurdish slogan "Jin--Jiyan--Azadi," or "Women--Life--Freedom."

We also have basic radical slogans which express simple truths of working-class existence---"An injury to one is an injury to all" and "Labor creates all wealth, all wealth should go to labor"---and the hopeful slogan "Solidarity forever!". These are only realized if we take the slogan "Dare to struggle and dare to win" seriously. I take my cue from Marx and start from the revolutionary position that "workers and employers have nothing in common," a common slogan of the old revolutionary labor movement, because this expresses a dialectic of opposing class forces. But raising this as a slogan now and outside of an organizing strategy that gets us to a situation where we have mass revolutionary organizations and a workers' party is problematic.

The Sanders movement is raising an ambiguous slogan when they talk about "political revolution" because its meaning, content and projection is so far unclear. When the Clinton campaign talks about "winning with Hilary" they use a slogan without real content. What does that really mean? Who wins and who loses and on what terms? Our opening quote from Lenin and Marx applies here.

Some incorrect or negative slogans are:

* "Anyone but Trump"

* "Workers' Power"

* "Kicking ass for the working class"

* "Make America great again"

* "Don't vote--it only encourages them"

* "Smash the state"

* "Bernie or bust"

* "No god, no masters"

* "Stand with children"

* "There is no way to peace; peace is the way."

We reject these slogans because they disempower people, disarm people, show no path from the present to the future or are simply reactionary. 

Lenin and Stalin took up these questions a long time ago. We find the following in Stalin's The Opposition:

This tactical principle involves the question of changes of slogans, and of the order and method of this change. It involves the question as to how slogans for the Party are to be transformed into slogans for the masses ; it involves the question as to how the masses are to be led into revolutionary positions, so that the masses may be convinced from their own political experience of the correctness of the Party slogans. For the masses cannot be convinced by propaganda and agitation alone. The political experience of the masses themselves is required for this. It is necessary that the broad masses should learn from their own personal sufferings that the overthrow of the given system, let us say, is inevitable and that the establishment of a new political and social system is inevitable. It was a good thing, for instance, that the advanced group, the Party, was already convinced of the inevitability, let us say, of the overthrow of the Milyukov- Kerensky Provisional Government in April 1917. But this was not enough to enable us to come out for the overthrow of that government, to advance the slogan of the overthrow of the Provisional Government and the establishment of the Soviet government as a slogan of the day . In order to convert the formula "All Power to the Soviets" from an immediate prospect into a slogan o f the day, a slogan of immediate action, another decisive factor was required, namely that the masses themselves should become convinced of the correctness of this slogan, and should in one way or another assist the Party in carrying this slogan into effect . A distinction must be drawn between a formula which is an immediate prospect and a formula which is a slogan of the day. It is precisely this that the group of Bolsheviks in Petrograd headed by Comrade Bogdatyev in April 1917, failed to understand when it prematurely put forward the slogan, "Down with the Provisional Government, All Power to the Soviets." Lenin at that time qualified this attempt on the part of Comrade Bogdatyev as a dangerous piece of adventurism and pilloried him publicly. Why? Because the wide mass of toilers in the rear and at the front were not yet receptive to this slogan. Because this group confused the formula "All Power to the Soviets" as a prospect with the slogan "All Power to the Soviets" as a slogan of the day. Because they ran ahead and incurred the danger of the Party's becoming completely isolated from the masses and from the Soviets, which at that time still believed that the Provisional Government was revolutionary. Should the Chinese Communists, for instance, six months ago, have put forward the slogan, "Down with the Kuomintang leadership in Wuchang?" No, they should not. They should not because this would be dangerously running ahead, it would have prevented contact between the Communists and the broad masses of toilers, who still believed in the leadership of the Kuomintang; it would have isolated the Communist Party from the peasant masses. They should not because the Wuchang Kuomintang leadership, the Wuchang Central Committee of the Kuomintang, had not yet run its course as a bourgeois revolutionary government: it had not yet disgraced and discredited itself in the eyes of the broad masses of toilers by its fight against the agrarian revolution, its fight against the working class and its swing-over to counter-revolution. We always said that it was impossible to adopt the policy of discrediting and replacing the Wuchang Kuomintang leadership before it had run its course as a bourgeois revolutionary government, and that it must first be allowed to run its course before practically raising the question of replacing it . Should the Chinese Communists put forward the slogan, "Down with the Kuomintang leadership in Wuchang" now? Yes, they should, unconditionally. Now that the Kuomintang leadership has already disgraced itself by its fight against the revolution, now that it has adopted a hostile attitude to the workers and peasant masses, this slogan will meet with a powerful response on the part of the mass of the people. Every worker and every peasant will now realize that the Communists were right in withdrawing from the Wuchang government and from the Wuchang Central Committee of the Kuomintang, and in putting forward the slogan, "Down with the Kuomintang leadership in Wuchang." For the peasant and worker masses are now faced with the alternative: either the present leadership of the Kuomintang, which means that there will be no hope of satisfying the urgent needs of these masses and that the agrarian revolution will be abandoned; or an agrarian revolution and a radical improvement of the condition of the working class, and then the removal of the Kuomintang leadership in Wuchang will become a slogan of the day for the masses. Such are the demands of the third tactical principle of Leninism in connection with the question of changes of slogans, of the ways and means of bringing the masses to new revolutionary positions and of how, by one's policy and actions, and by a timely change of slogans, to help the broad masses of toilers to realize from their own experience the correctness of the line of the Party.

We are not saying here that the situation in the US matches that of Russia or China several generations ago. We do not expect most readers to easily grasp the finer points of Russian and Chinese revolutionary history or to take Lenin and Stalin automatically at their word when it comes to discussing these histories.We are saying that the method of thinking modeled here can be appropriated and used by us today. A criteria is given here for what makes good and bad slogans and that criteria rests very much on the dialectical approach we have been arguing for in our 7 posts on thinking.     

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