Thursday, February 11, 2021

Radical Unity by Garrett Snedaker

We are borrowing this post that has been circulating by e-mail because we think that it makes many points that are worth debating and because it expresses in plain language what we think needs to be heard by some local activists who are looking Left.

In spite of some tall hurdles, the opportunity is there for the Democratic Party to help transform society, at a time when the Republican Party is having trouble controlling a monster of its own making. The Democratic Party, though, must be willing to transform itself, requiring new strategies and an impassioned commitment to the sorts of reforms the Democratic Party has long dismissed as too radical. Some will argue that what we really need is a new political party, but I don’t see that as being a viable option, and for the purposes of this essay I’m not considering it. The Democratic Party will need to engage in outreach to rural Americans, as well as cynical or apathetic nonvoters. But not by appealing to a supposed centrism, or by being progressive only in rhetoric and not in deed. On the contrary, the Democratic Party must fully embrace a progressive populism. Frustration with the status quo, including incrementalism, is boiling over. We don’t have time for standard operating procedure, thanks in large part to climate change, nor is it capable of building the sort of broad support needed to, at long last, realize an egalitarian, just and humane society. Before diving into what exactly I think the Democratic Party should be doing, let’s consider some substantial impediments and how we got to where we are.


The US political system is, despite claims to the contrary, incredibly anti-democratic. Defending the US Senate by saying it represents the states and not individuals is disingenuous. As Hans Noel of Vox asks, "Why should it have a veto on any legislation that has nothing to do with states as states?" The US Senate also hands out lifetime appointments to those who rule on matters that affect individuals. It does so in a country that is vastly different than the one of 13 colonies and 2.5 million people. In the 18th century, there were no examples of population disparities that even remotely rival the disparity between California and Wyoming. The anti-majoritarian nature of our political system is only going to get worse, unless we expand who constitutes the majority. It has been estimated that by the year 2040, approximately two-thirds of the US population will be represented by just 30 US Senators. US residents are increasingly concentrated with more than half the US population living in just over 140 of the more than 3000 counties. More than 80 percent of the US population lives in urban areas, whereas only about half did so a century ago and only a fraction as many when the nation's constitution was written. It is now a consistent threat that the electoral college, a remnant of slavery, will be won by a presidential candidate who loses the popular vote by millions. Meanwhile, the supposed people's house, the US House of Representatives, is plagued by gerrymandered, winner-take-all single-member districts. State assemblies, such as the one in Wisconsin, suffer the same ills. If that wasn't enough, the US political scene is awash in dark money


Those features of the US political system give aid and comfort to the Republican Party of the 21st century. Still, when Republicans saw the writing on the wall decades ago, they couldn't have liked what they were reading. Demographic shifts, social mores and scientific knowledge were all working against them, meaning an anti-majoritarian political system might not be sufficient to maintain plutocracy. It became imperative that the GOP create an alternate reality, in which the bulk of their base now resides. Trump or Trumpism didn't happen in a vacuum. 50 years of increasingly cruel, unhinged rhetoric and policy is what created a Republican Party that's now dominated by the likes of Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Marsha Blackburn, Jim Jordan, Steve King, Joni Ernst, Paul Gosar, Matt Gaetz, Mo Brooks, Louie Gohmert and some who openly subscribe to QAnonsense. 


When people have a different take on the causes, effects and proper response to a given set of facts, a potentially constructive debate might ensue. When people deny facts and invent their own "alternative facts," no such potential exists. Various surveys have shown that a majority of Republicans disbelieve everything from climate science to evolution to Barack Obama's birth certificate to the results of the 2020 presidential election. A 2014 poll of Louisiana Republicans found that more respondents blamed Obama than blamed George W. Bush  for the federal government's poor response to 2005's Hurricane Katrina. Such ignorance seems benign when considering that, at present, millions of people seem to believe Donald Trump and JFK, Jr. are leading an effort to prevent "Deep State" Democrats from eating babies in pizza shop basements. Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene has attributed wildfires to Jewish space lasers, and claims school shootings are false flag operations, yet all but 11 of her GOP colleagues were unwilling to strip her of committee assignments, much less demand her resignation. How in the world did we get here? Contributing factors include social media, the longstanding right wing dominance of talk radio and the 24/7 infotainment industry. The Republican Party itself, though, started laying the groundwork for this alternate reality long ago.


Richard Nixon's Southern Strategy took advantage of a backlash to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. The Powell Memorandum of the early 1970s served as a blueprint for the corporatization of a nation that, thanks in large part to FDR's New Deal, had seen a reduction in the wealth gap and substantial growth of a middle class. In the late '70s, Moral Majority was founded and worked diligently at turning hate into a family value.


Ronald Reagan, like Margaret Thatcher across the pond, would take the right wing revolution to new heights. Dog whistling, anti-government vitriol and deregulation have been just a few of the tools used. Long before Trump's big lie about the 2020 election being stolen or climate change being a hoax (while, mind you, he applies for a permit to build a giant seawall around his resort in Ireland), there was the big lie known as trickle-down economics, or what George H. W. Bush referred to as "voodoo." 


At the same time profit and not the public interest became primary for an increasingly consolidated media, and the Fairness Doctrine was being repealed, the Republican Party sold another big lie when successfully implanting into the public consciousness the "liberal media" critique. It took the obscene egregiousness of Donald Trump and an insurrection for the infotainment industry to somewhat come to its senses regarding its habit of promoting false equivalencies, suggesting a warped sense of what constitutes fairness. Chris Cilliza, writing for CNN, quotes Rand Paul regarding his 2020 election fraud claims: "Historically what would happen is if I said that I thought that there was fraud, you would interview someone else who said there wasn't. But now you insert yourself in the middle and say that the absolute fact is that everything that I'm saying is a lie." Cilliza responds, "This is a classic appeal to both-sider-ism by Paul. His argument goes like this: I can say anything I want and it's not the job of the media to litigate whether it's true or not. Instead, there should be another guest on the show who says the opposite of what I am saying -- and then the viewers can decide who is right and who is wrong." Cilliza, to his credit, then adds a sad truth: "Paul is right that journalism, for far too long, worked like this." Indeed, for far too long, the media has been like the Discovery Institute with their "Teach the Controversy" campaign. I'm not confident that those days are over, as the profit motive remains in place.


That said, the two major political parties have not functioned as disparately as rhetoric suggests, though they have been moving apart of late. Most unfortunately, many in the Democratic Party establishment have also subscribed to neoliberalism, while maintaining a relatively progressive take on social issues. It is also undeniable that members of both parties have been and remain beholden to moneyed interests. Then-candidate Joe Biden assured wealthy donors at a private fundraiser that, if he becomes president, "No one’s standard of living will change, nothing would fundamentally change.” Disgust with corruption in Washington is not unjustified, even if those chanting "drain the swamp" have failed to see that their political heroes are themselves swamp creatures.  


So, what is the Democratic Party to do, especially if the anti-democratic system within which it operates is virtually reform-proof? Simply put, Democrats and other organizations must help build the massive multiracial working class alliance that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Fred Hampton and other '60s radicals were attempting to build, that Reverend William Barber is attempting to build today with his Poor People's Campaign. Such an alliance must include millions of rural Americans who currently either don't vote or vote Republican. The Democratic Party must abandon neoliberalism and assist in the development of class consciousness around support for universal programs like Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, worker-owned cooperatives, campaign finance reform, and universal access to preschool and college via progressive taxation and a wealth tax. None of this is to say the Democratic Party shouldn't also concern itself with ending white supremacy and patriarchy. But framing matters, tactics matter and disingenuous prioritization is transparent.


Far too many members of the Democratic Party establishment seem more interested in ensuring that thirteen percent of hedge fund managers are black than in ending predatory capitalism, as if a lack of diversity is the utmost concern. In a 2018 article, Adolph Reed, Jr. writes, "Even when its proponents believe themselves to be radicals, this antiracist politics is a professional-managerial class politics. Its adherents are not concerned with trying to generate the large, broad political base needed to pursue a transformative agenda because they are committed fundamentally to pursuit of racial parity within neoliberalism, not social transformation. In fact, antiracist activists’ and pundits’ insistence during the 2016 election campaign that Bernie Sanders did not address black concerns made that point very clearly because nearly every item on the Sanders campaign’s policy agenda—from the Robin Hood tax on billionaires to free public higher education to the $15/h minimum wage, a single-payer health care system, etc. (Sanders for President)—would disproportionately benefit black and Hispanic populations that are disproportionately working class."


If we're to build an egalitarian, humane nation and world, having only 51 or even 60 percent of the people on board isn't going to cut it. Besides, it is unwise and demonstrates a lack of compassion to leave so many people feeling like they don't belong. But what will unite the masses? Getting money and its corruptive influence out of politics is a concept that people from all across the political spectrum can undoubtedly support. Quality, affordable health care and a living wage are things most everyone wants. With the right framing and persistent outreach, support for community-controlled policing can possibly be developed by tapping into the same desire many have for local control of schools. While many have bought into the notion that climate change is a hoax, those same individuals can understand the importance of breathing clean air and drinking clean water. The Green New Deal is a jobs bill as much as a climate change mitigation bill. Those working in the fossil fuel industry, in Wyoming and North Dakota and elsewhere, need some assurance that shutting down fossil fuel production doesn't mean destroying their livelihood. Green infrastructure projects are key. Another helpful move would be bringing back the Fairness Doctrine and encouraging educators to teach media literacy. The bottom line is that transforming society won't happen with a return to the pre-Trump "normal." 


Above all, I'm advocating that the Democratic Party, along with other organizations, invest heavily in outreach and movement building, particularly in rural areas. And not just during election cycles but between election cycles. Pay people a living wage to knock on doors and hang out at diners and have conversations that uncover common ground. Not for the purpose of helping a candidate win or a ballot measure pass, but to build sustainable solidarity. Face-to-face interactions, once they become safe again, are ideal. The recruiting, planning and paid training can start right away, online or possibly in person. These solidarity organizers must be trained in diplomacy, in how to listen and respond as opposed to react. They should be armed with knowledge, but studies demonstrate that "facts backfire," so organizers must also understand that emotional appeals are vital. There may need to be some biting of tongues at times, not as a suppression of values but as a way to build bridges. Plant seeds that will hopefully take root in the minds of those who may have some detestable views, but do so gracefully, knowing there's more to people than their worst misconceptions. These outreach efforts should extend to the tens of millions of adults who don't vote, at least partly on account of feeling like politicians aren't making their lives appreciably better. 


I'll close with a quote from Dr. King's brilliant 1967 "Beyond Vietnam" speech, when he called for something that has yet come to pass but still can. "I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a 'thing‐oriented' society to a 'person‐oriented' society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered…True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, 'This is not just.'...A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” 


Garrett Snedaker

2/4/2021

Thursday, January 21, 2021

We say that struggle resolves all contradictions. What does this mean? Part 3 of 3.

Our working-class and nationally oppressed peoples are in constant crises, and over the last decade or longer we have seen more of our people showing up with depression, anxiety disorders, social phobias, addictions, and more. We have seen some comrades move from the Left to the far-right not because they have changed their politics so much as they have strong emotional reactions to certain people or to conflict. This is political—this happens because capitalism is in crisis and throws people overboard. It would be one thing if we could put empathy into action and build groups to self-manage their care and healing, occupy a hospital or non-profit and put forward demands, and formulate a program and practice based on oppression and liberation to confront these crises. The comrades who criticize us for ableism and for not doing this are not wrong; we are failing to address crises, and we often view these crises as personal. But we do not have the tools, and we cannot get all of the tools needed, to address the crises that confront our people.

In fact, we do not talk much about “our people” and take responsibility for what is, after all, the country in which we live. Socialist and liberation movements the world over root themselves in the progressive national traditions of their peoples as they resolve the contradictions between their movements and the masses. We are barely in a place where we can talk about solidarity, but we are caught in a situation where some comrades want us to---or need us to---talk about and practice empathy and mutual aid instead, and they damn us when we do not. We need comrade doctors and comrade therapists badly. We are fighting a war of sorts, and every army needs a field hospital. But we also need to know and identify with several tens of millions of people here who are now strangers to us. The particular crises experienced by our people form material impositions by capitalism and also demonstrate our shortcomings.

These difficulties do not excuse us from serving the people and putting "serving" in the proper contexts so that it is not understood as charity or as mutual aid. I recently attended a Web event hosted by a militant Kurdish and Turkish socialist organization that had therapists speaking to their audience, calming and hopeful live music, and a compassionate woman comrade who facilitated the event and gave an in-depth political analysis. We can do this.  

The DSA chapter problems referred to here have taken place within particular contexts. These events transpired while the fascist attacks were underway in D.C. and Salem, or in their aftermath. They took place as a new political moment is opening, and one that most (but not all) of us worked for. They took place as COVID continued to take an out-of-proportion toll in our community. There are particular crises of capitalism present, one of which is increasing automation (and many fewer jobs to return to) as COVID continues and another of which is the purchasing of corporate debt and the consequences of that. The DSA chapter problems occurred as movements around us began to push back, and perhaps to advance. This push-back gives us new opportunities and challenges.

Those are some of the objective conditions that we work with. But there is a contradictory subjective set of conditions as well to consider. There is an experiential gap between leaders and members, and similar gaps between members, and McCarthyite anti-communism is sometimes present and is allowed. A woman comrade has to steel herself for certain meetings because she experiences mansplaining and sniping comments from other comrades. Chapter leadership does not collectively engage with members when backsteps occur. We have no base in the labor movement or in workplace organizing, although we have many union members. A couple of comrades tend to Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy, a few are anarchists, at least two are close to the Solidarity organization, and others fit well into DSA’s “big tent.” But one comrade opposes new anti-terrorism legislation aimed at the far-right, one wants to leave all political questions to “the workers” to settle after they take power, we are attempting to study the Labor Theory of Value because we do not have similar understandings of exploitation and oppression, we do not have unity around the question(s) of self-determination, we passed a resolution calling on Salem’s conservative mayor to lead an anti-racist effort and exceed his authority in certain areas without much discussion. and the comrade who advanced some caustic criticisms mentioned above was told that perhaps he should leave DSA.

In other words, we sometimes depoliticize ourselves, and this time we did it when having the right political line and practice is of special importance. And if what we do is not political, then it becomes personal and we are struggling with feelings and past slights that cannot be put away. We thus take on some aspects of our opposition.

The opposite of “big tent,” or the answer to it and to the movement-destructive behaviors that sometimes come with it, are neither narrow Left sects nor purges. Just the opposite is true: we need a more politicized DSA, with declared factions and tendencies and deep work among the working-class and nationally oppressed masses. There is a need in the U.S. right now for principled mass social-democratic politics and organizing, so let’s think about redesign. Principled mass social-democratic politics should be the right pole or wall of DSA, and with that being the space where DSA’s politics begin. People who are active every day and sharing leadership and activity and participating in actions find ways to resolve or work with their differences that others cannot. They develop a common rhythm of work, and they set about building capacity for struggle and leadership among workers and oppressed peoples. They do that, or they perish. If the numbers of people so engaged do not increase and do not take leadership---if the quantities and qualities of the peoples’ forces do not change for the better---we lose. A principled, mass social-democratic “big tent” organization is needed, but within that effort there should be room for organizations that distinguish between cadre members (the decisive force who unite, serve, and lead the people) and other members as well as organizations in which people are educated, tested, and given the space and means to evolve politically before they become full members. The contradictions between a “big tent” organization and other forms of organization can work for the good if we assume that clear thinking, unity through shared struggles, and a “no enemies on the Left” policy prevails.

We have some great advancements to point to that illustrate this dynamic of people learning to work together and moving Leftward: Salem DSA’s socialist environmentalism, the Chapter’s abilities in initiating and carrying though on some community projects, our ability and willingness to take part in an important coalition effort despite being a minority within that coalition, participation in some electoral work and an almost-won in a City council race, and a willingness by some comrades to study the Labor Theory of Value and engage with basic Marxism. This inspires and empowers people to do additional planning for 2021. One question that we have to answer is if this forward motion weighs more than our backsteps. Another question is how we deliberately correct backward motion.

The primary contradiction is between the working-class and oppressed peoples and capitalism. The secondary contradiction for us is between ourselves and the working-class and nationally oppressed peoples. You can either love the people or hate the system; the choice you make will put you in one place or another. This is one link between the two separate contradictions. The primary contradiction and how we respond to it with the masses are all that we should have room for dealing with in our movement and in DSA. Our work starts with grasping the contradictions. Our growth comes with understanding the overall nature of contradiction and development—and not just with understanding these, but with working with them and applying what we learn in every aspect of our lives. Expect contradiction and conflict, but look at each situation and ask how it arrived at a specific stage and what is happening within it and around it and is moving it forward or backward. We should not over-emphasize negation, but we should not lead with conciliation either. Apply this to relationships in the here-and-now because all relationships are areas of struggle, and all relationships and struggles are joined.

What does this mean in practice for us? Study, engage in mass work, form political factions within DSA as our mass work moves ahead, recognize and respect differences within a socialist framework, reject liberalism and defeatism within and amongst ourselves, let those who do the work speak first, agree that there is no right to speak without first understanding what is at issue, help people develop within and through the organization rather than quickly place them into positions of responsibility, broaden our base and our leadership more carefully than we do, move people and ourselves to the Left, understand this this movement to the Left occurs in stages, and understand that the contradictions between ourselves and the ruling class are fundamentally and irreversibly antagonistic but that the contradictions between ourselves and the masses are not. These methods of work have been formed and tested in every successful revolution. Political debates and discussions are not arguments, and they should not be sources of bitterness. If differences are handled correctly the discussions over differences should lead to greater unity. And remember what Amilcar Cabral said: "Responsible members must take life seriously, conscious of their responsibilities, thoughtful about carrying them out, and with a comradeship based on work and duty done. Nothing of this is incompatible with the joy of living, or with love for life and its amusements, or with confidence in the future and in our work...." All of this is what we mean when we say that struggle resolves all contradictions.

The working-class and nationally oppressed peoples are our only bastions, our only means of defending ourselves. They are the only forces that can lead a revolution. If it seems that the people are opposed to us, or that they consider us to be their enemy, this is because we have not correctly resolved the contradictions between us.

Further and better reading:

1. Mao's On Contradiction: https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-1/mswv1_17.htm

2. Zhou Enlai's Guidelines for Myself: https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-1/mswv1_17.htm

3. Stalin on dialectical materialism: https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1938/09.htm

4. M.N. Roy on patriotism: https://www.marxists.org/archive/roy/1923/06/12.htm

5. Marlene Dixon on the oppression of women: https://www.marxists.org/subject/women/authors/dixon-marlene/class-struggle.htm

6. Fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism:https://archive.org/details/fundamentalsofma0000unse

7. Amilcar Cabral Tell no lies, Claim no easy victories: https://www.marxists.org/subject/africa/cabral/1965/tnlcnev.htm

   

We say that struggle resolves all contradictions. What does that mean? Part 2 of 3.

To this point this has been a poor and second-hand introduction to dialectical materialism. Here is how this works out in practice in a political organization, and here is how we answer the question of what we mean when we say that struggle resolves all contradictions.

Most of the labor and radical political organizations that I have been involved with have had a group of leaders and activists and a rank-and-file who tune in and out. Whether the leaders and activists intend to or not, they often build a moat around themselves. They do ever more work but their energies and numbers diminish over time. At some point some of them turn on one another or turn on the rank-and-file. The rank-and-file, for their part, might have a transactional or user mentality, or they may have signed on because they are good with the organization’s program, or because they want to give financial support but not do more, or because the right person or the right moment needed to move them has not arrived. Leadership may also fall into transactionalism, meaning that inducements of one kind or another are used to get members or to build projects. Or leadership may conciliate with members’ inaction, or they may keep looking for the right thing or a right moment to move people.

Being a socialist does not mean that one is free of all capitalist influences or individualism. And being a socialist now, when much of the U.S. Left has arrived where they are through the Occupy and Sanders movements or through a battered labor movement, often means that counter-culturalism, so-called “identity politics,” forms of liberalism and anarchism, tendencies to work for change “from above” rather than with workers and nationally oppressed peoples at the grassroots, going to the many manuals for social change that are out there for answers, living in the world of the non-profits, and not engaging with the classics of socialism runs pretty strong. We have seen in a very short time the practical disappearance in many areas of a traditional, militant, self-educated Left made up of workers and nationally oppressed peoples. And it is not only that we have seen this disappearance, but that it has been a forced disappearance in some sense, driven by ageism, nihilism, anarchism, and liberalism on the Left.

What we know, or what we think we know, is that if you do not build activism into an organization from its first minutes you end up with inactivism, busyness (not organizing), or division. And we know, or we think we know, that if you do for people what they can do for themselves you diminish their ability to lead and limit their identification with the organization. We know that not all motion is forward motion, but it is questionable if we can identify backward motion when we see it and if we know how to stop it. We should know that learning history is a subversive act, and that we have a responsibility or right to insist that everyone take up the tools of theory and practice as they enter our organizations. We know, or we should know from the labor movement, that an organizer can spend all day preaching unity, but when one person says “Maybe we’ll get fired if we protest” the group falls apart. The Left has our equivalents: personal attacks, anti-communism, the “white fragility” line all set activity back. We know that people will enter a house with many wide-open doors, but we should also know that not everyone coming through the doors is someone you want planning your next party and deciding who is going to serve the punch at the party. We should know that we cannot tell people to bugger off and expect heir cooperation or open ears.

When these problems occur in the context of a “big tent” socialist organization like a chapter of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) the undemocratic underpinnings of the organization become more problematic. We should not expect a socialist organization in the U.S. right now to be fully democratic, fully participatory, and fully attuned to what the working-class and oppressed peoples are thinking and doing. And it is not that DSA is primarily undemocratic in its structure or decision-making, but that the “big tent” formulation is, in itself, undemocratic. “Big tent” means, on the one hand, that all “democratic socialists” are welcome---a good thing when “democratic” refers to democracy in motion but a bad thing when it refers to a specific social-democratic tradition or some form of Left liberalism. On the other hand, “big tent” also means that there will be problems with decision-making, focus, and attention to national projects. People will drop in and out. What we think of as “political line” and “mass work”---the two necessary aspects of activism that are in non-antagonistic opposition to one another---will not be taken up by the entire organization, or at least not in the same ways and at the same times.

A comrade who is not engaged in mass work but who has a long history of activism and leadership will be prone to take occasional swipes at other comrades, and especially those in leadership. His comments can be caustic and can be heard as blow-offs to the Chapter, although this is not his intention. This is what isolation accomplishes in many situations. The leadership is feeling burdened with the work that they do and the relatively low numbers of people involved; they are understandably defensive when attacked. Both the comrade who is attacking and those who are feeling the attack understand that there are openings for DSA and for socialism that are being missed. Both are aware that each meeting creates more work, and neither is completely confidant that they are moving in the right direction quickly enough. The former cannot hear the others asking for his participation (too often on their terms, and not on his), and the latter keeps on taking on work as if their energy is infinite and as if their methods of work are democratic.

Because we have a “big tent” organization we cannot find unity on questions of self-determination, defunding the police or putting police under community control, some of the basics of exploitation, and the role of the state. We do not have a commonly shared analysis of colonialism and imperialism. We have not discussed or come up with a shared analysis of the coup attempt in D.C. or the fascist threat here in Oregon. The people in the organization who have backgrounds in Marxism and organizing drop the ball when it comes to discussing these questions, engaging in education, and doing practical work in these areas---or we conciliate with liberalism or anarchism.

And because we all live in the U.S. and drink deeply from this culture, we see our failures in individual terms, we excuse them as matters of personal angst or exhaustion, we burn out, or we conciliate in less-than-principled ways---or we gather up our toys and go home angry and sulk. Political disagreements are taken as personal affronts, and this is sometimes inescapable when political line is distorted and expressed in caustic terms. Anyone active in the labor and Left movements meets a good number of alcoholics and dopers, burn outs, angry people, mansplainers, too-busy people, and droners. What they share in common are unhealthy relationships to power and individualism that negate collective work and power. We over-emphasize the role of negation in making change, if we think about how change happens at all. But for us, as socialists, the problem should be less about what is healthy or unhealthy and more about what it takes in terms of our relations to the masses to get on and stay on a path to working-class power.

These turns signify bourgeois or petty-bourgeois intrusions into our movement, or at least an absence of criticism and self-criticism and support for those of us who want to grow and do better. They have their complementary political positions in opposition to theory and intellectual development on the Left, political defeatism and indecisiveness, a distrust or rejection of paths to power, and an inability or unwillingness to think dialectically and work with the push and pull of political struggle. This is where we get Trotskyism and reflexive anti-communism and anti-Stalinism from. This is where unprincipled coalition activity (and not united fronts) comes from.

Go here for Part 3.

We say that struggle resolves all contradictions. What does that mean? Part 1 of 3

We say that struggle resolves all contradictions. What does that mean?

In the sense that we use the word, “contradiction” we are talking about opposition that occurs within and between people, and within and between contending forces and within and between things as well. Opposition and struggle---contradiction---are natural and universal. Opposition and struggle are the means by which things change, and since everything is in development and motion then change is also on-going and constant. Contradictions may be antagonistic or non-antagonistic, but they are ever-present.

It is not that unrelated people or forces or things come into contact and conflict with one another, but that there are interrelationships at work, and that people and forces and things have distinct stages of development and self-development. If we want to understand someone or something, we must look at a web of relations and relationships, the history of development that is at work, what is intrinsic and what is external, and what contradictions are present. You must enter and experience the environment of what it is that you are studying in order to know it.

Grasping contradiction is a way of understanding the mutually exclusive and opposing tendencies that develop within, and are present in, everything within us and around us, including our thoughts and thinking and even motion itself. The most common way that we have of talking about this in talking about water. When water is heated to certain point it becomes steam, and in so doing the quantity and quality of the water is changed. Motion (heat) creates changes in quantity and quality. Heat is itself the product of opposing forces. But even without heat water will undergo other changes as well, although it appears to be still: evaporation, or freezing to become slush or ice come readily to mind. The parallel for us is that the “motion” of social movements creates changes in the qualities of societies and changes in the numbers of people involved and in the qualities of their thinking, their work, and their cultures.

Since contradiction and change are universal and constant, then, something of the past, something of the present, and something of the future is always present. The quantities and qualities of what is around us are changing. What is new supersedes what is old. Old conditions (old forces, old quantities, old qualities, and old contradictions) may be defeated, but some part of the past goes into the new thing that has been created and new contradictions and struggles are born. Interdependence means that in the process of change the aspects that exist within something become their opposites. Think here about how the organisms that eventually made human life possible developed in stages over long periods of time.

Here we also often use the example of capitalists and capitalism: the capitalists were a subordinated force within feudalism, and capitalism existed in an embryonic state, but through a clash between rival means of producing and distributing commodities the capitalists and capitalism took power. This was “progressive” in the sense that productive powers were freed up and the mechanisms of production and distribution could acquire social characteristics---more people involved, triumphs for science, an end to a dying order that was being crushed under its own weight---but it was oppressive in the sense that the new order rested on the subjugation of working-classes and nationally oppressed peoples and new levels of environmental destruction and slavery continued and took new forms. Also, capitalism continued and deepened the contradiction between people and nature. The primary contradictions that quickly emerged were between capitalism and capitalists, on the one hand, and the working-classes and nationally oppressed peoples on the other hand.

Socialism must emerge as a new form of production and distribution and take on the task of restoring to us a place within nature. Socialism will not come as a clean slate, but will carry something from capitalism within it. It took changes in quantities and qualities---of people, of the means by which things were produced and distributed, of thinking and science, of class relations, of cultures---to give capitalism its victory. But in its victory capitalism created its opposing forces in the forms of workers and nationally oppressed peoples. Just so with socialism: something from capitalism will be present, the work of building socialism will; be present, and in this work are the seeds of communism.

The new most often replaces the old in a capitalist society when there is clarity among the working-class and oppressed masses around what the primary and secondary contradictions are and when antagonism defines the struggle between contending ideas and social forces. Antagonism is not always necessary or present, but it is a stage in contradiction and struggle. We have implied or said so far that contradiction and struggle are not the same, that as something is negated something else is created, that this is on-going and constant, that changes in quantities and qualities are most deeply imbedded in these processes, that the new supersedes the old and carries in it something of the old and the present and the new, that there is a unity in opposites in the sense that every thing is identified by the opposing forces within and around it and by its history of development, and that under certain conditions opposing forces with some thing can coexist and “become one another” by creating a new identity. Negation is of course a necessary step or stage, but negation is itself negated through development and the role of negation should not be over-emphasized.

Some of our critics object by saying that cooperation and mutual aid are responsible for development. We respond that even in situations where mutual aid is predominant, it is so because existence is itself a contradictory state (life opposing death or decay, motion as a contradictory state, apparent solidarity existing as necessity) and so it is a matter of struggle. Some of our critics object by emphasizing spontaneity and randomness, but we respond that these are limited factors in development and exist in relation to (as relative to) other forces. Some of our critics say that we should be agnostics, or “objective,” in our approach, but we say that (human) activity is primary in all things and that it is through action and understanding action that relative truth comes to be understood; there is no limit to (human) activity and understanding. Some of our critics say that we leave no room for idealism, and they are correct in the sense that we do not believe that ideas have power or meaning by themselves. Other critics say that we make no room for freedom or will, and we say that we understand freedom to be the recognition of necessity and that it is the people---and people alone---who make history. We add to that that history is the “space” in which human beings develop.

Go here for Part 2.  

Friday, January 8, 2021

Some Notes On Our Present Moment---Part Three Of Three

Salem, Oregon---our town---has been highlighted as a center of far-right terrorism and activism. Here is recurring fascist violence, and the right-wing won most of the local and state electoral contests in November and controls the County Commission and the School Board. Attending the counter-protests can be unsafe, and they are not organized on a united-front basis that builds and broadens our capacity to fight and win. A door opened for broad anti-fascist and anti-racist unity last spring and then closed and has remained closed. The pandemic has been disempowering---or our response to it has been. Radical forces have not consolidated and put forward an all-people’s political program while the right-wing has consolidated and put forward a program of sorts, or a warped explanation of what’s going on. Liberals have erred on the school reopenings and the matter of school district liability for the spread of COVID at work. Liberal faith in the system seems to have been strengthened even as the system falters. They continue to take a top-down approach in many areas, and they continue to write off the working-class except when our votes are needed.

Attempts were recently made by the far-right to intimidate staff from the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration at their homes while the right-wing Freedom Foundation seeks to bust public employee unions, and now anti-maskers are attacking retail workers on their jobs in Salem. Intentionally or not, they are working hand-in-hand against working people. Where are our liberal and radical friends when it comes to attacks against workers and our unions? Where are our unions when it comes to leading an all-peoples front against our enemies? We return to the point that solidarity is not a two-way street in Salem, and we add that it sometimes feels that this is by design and intent by some people.

Our City Council appears to be progressive in much the same way that a few members of our School Board and the Superintendent once appeared to be progressive, but the people now have only two or three voices on the City Council (and none at the School Board). The real estate industry, the Chamber of Commerce, the banks, and the Salem Leadership Foundation are positioned to head off progressive change, and they are probably relieved that they have not taken heat for their roles over the past year. The police and the people who work behind the scenes at the County, City, and School Board levels work very hard to redirect that heat and deplete our progressive energy. Many non-profits help to soften the blow and redirect our energy and heat as well.

Politics here remains a matter of personalities---Paul Evans’ push for power, Shemia Fagan’s extended run for Governor, the short-lived Tina Kotek/Janelle Bynum controversy and deal, Bill Post on the radio, the right-wing focus on Kate Brown. Politics should be about political programs, struggle, and forward motion. It should not be about agreeing to disagree or conciliating or convincing people that we’re all on the same team; there is an “us” and a “them” that needs to be understood and used correctly. What force is there in Salem, or in Oregon, that can make politics all about a working-class and oppressed peoples’ struggle for forward movement?

Still, we must ask how is it that Rep. Nearman may have let the fascists into the State Capitol on December 21, that Rep. Cliff Bentz supports Trump and the right-wing terrorists and holds office, that Rep. Bill Post can waffle on the coup attempt and still hold office and be named as Assistant Deputy Leader of the Oregon House Republicans? Post’s case is instructive: he is no doubt getting support and protection from agribusiness for his effort to cut the agriculture minimum wage for workers under 21 years of age.

We have been through the fires, but rural Oregon continues to suffer. We are hitting a high point in new COVID cases, and Marion County’s infections and deaths are way out of line with our population numbers and our healthcare systems. Houselessness appears to be growing. These are systemic problems that are not going to be solved by individual effort, but saying this does not get individuals off the hook. If we dwell only on the bad news and our desperation, we disempower ourselves and one another. Radicals here are indeed surrounded. Breaking out of this encirclement can only be done by building relations with the working-class and oppressed peoples and through strategic united front (coalition) work.

Some Notes On Our Present Moment---Part Two Of Three

A statement from Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) reinforces what gets called “liberal identity politics” when they say, “This was scripted white supremacist violence instigated by Trump.” We agree with DSA that Representative Ilhan Omar’s impeachment attempt and Representative Cori Bush’s effort to expel Republicans who tried to block the election deserve full support, but DSA is misstating what fascism is and they aren’t talking about building or consolidating an anti-fascist united front. A statement from Howie Hawkins of the Green Party (remember them?) on January 1 took the Left to task for supposedly retreating to the right. Hawkins prescribed less unity for the Left as his cure and put forward no ideas on how to fight and win in the present moment. The “We knew this was coming!” crowd didn’t know this was coming, or wasn’t prepared even if they did. The people who scoff and say that this insurrection or attempted coup was poorly prepared forget that the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923 was also a sloppy job. Coups and insurrections often do not succeed on their first or second or third attempts---think of Turkey----but they are staging grounds and they consolidate power. The liberals must be pushed and pulled to follow through on impeachment and prosecutions of Trump and his allies; this a moment to open political options and build unity, not to further confine ourselves.

We do not defend science and logic, or reason, only because they are under attack by our enemies, but because science and logic are political questions. Each class---workers, the middle-class, the bosses---has a science and logic that meets its interests and needs, whether they fully realize this or not. The workers have dialectical materialism. That is a political matter. But for reason of any kind to hold sway, reasonable people must hold power---and the question of power is also a political question. The broad question of this moment is one of who will hold power, who will be excluded from holding power, and under what conditions this will take place.

Our radical friends who return from the future with prognostications of “all will be well” or “we are all doomed” should at least have the good graces to bring the winning Lotto numbers back with them if they really wish to be helpful.

It is now a true saying that if Georgia shows then way, then D.C. shows the stakes. But there is something else: it is not our liberal friends, or even many of our revolutionary comrades, who form the directly opposite and absolutely necessary opposing force to what happened in D.C. The necessary effective counter-push against the right-wing is coming from the Solid and Black Belt South and from workers in industries and professions most directly affected by the pandemic and people of color in communities where the police killings have happened and where there are existing traditions of fighting back. But these people cannot fight alone and win. The concept that solidarity is a two-way street built from necessity has been sacrificed and must be repurposed.

We should share with the liberals an absolute abhorrence of seeing the Confederate flag carried in the Capitol, or anywhere, and react with the same abhorrence and anger to the Camp Auschwitz sweatshirts. We should hold up the union statements condemning the fascists and use them to organize fellow union members into the movement. We should look soberly at the election numbers and stay with the base, the grassroots, and figure out how to win people over during the pandemic.

The media and certain politicians have been building narratives that will allow some Republicans to survive this moment politically and go on to win future elections by giving space to the Republicans who suddenly oppose Trump and street violence. That sets a low bar, but it feeds bipartisanship and may be used by Democrats to justify compromises. “We finally found some moderate Republicans!” The media and certain politicians have also been working for quite a while to find the roots of our crises in Russia, and not here at home. A liberal friend even sent along a meme of the Republican leadership under a hammer and sickle yesterday. Much is being done by the Centrists to salvage part of the right-wing and strengthen the Democratic party's Centrists, once more excluding the Left. It is not that the Democratic Party’s Centrism should not be reconstructed or saved, but that a Left-Center alliance would be of greater help, and would be more viable, than an alliance between the media and the center of the Democratic party or an alliance between centrist Democrats and the Right.

Our liberal friends walk into the media trap with their glasses off. Some of our radical friends either insist that the Left should have no ties to the center and that we should not consult the liberal media, or their criticisms are formulated in ways that prevent building unity. It’s as if the hard-fought election that we just went through didn’t teach us anything and that we didn’t win and lose ground in the elections in the same moment. The most capable voices on the Left analyzed the election results and argued that a Biden/Harris win would give us a new terrain to struggle on, and that waging that political struggle is all-important, but many of us remain mired in ultra-leftism and instinctively reject an organizing strategy and tactics that take us beyond Left circles and to the masses.

Some Notes On Our Present Moment--Part One of Three

It is understandable that people will respond to the multiple crises of the current moment reflexively, reaching for what is past and comfortable to sustain them in a new and difficult time. Armies are always fighting the last war. Revolutions perform seances to find their justification in the languages and personages of the past. Liberalism still looks to Rousseau’s Social Contract of 1762. When we speak of what is reactionary in honest terms, we are describing what has arisen in reaction to progress, or in reaction to forward movement. We are thus describing that familiar and comfortable political space that is a refuge from reality. Change, struggle, and contradiction form our material reality; everything within and around us is constantly in motion and development. Every reactionary idea or trend denies those aspects of reality and provides an alternate myth (racism, misogyny, false histories). We now find ourselves having to defend science and logic against a New Confederacy, a particular form of fascism that looks back 100 years to the racism and xenophobia and anti-union corporate-led offensives of the 1920s, and even further back to the defeat of Reconstruction, and then still further back in time.

Looking for comfort in the past and sentimentality are understandable, but they are things to struggle against and to defeat within ourselves and around us.

The “slow-motion coup” from the far-right that has been unfolding for years now has accelerated in recent days. It may change its form, but its essential content will remain and it will threaten progress for years to come. Bear in mind that this movement organized and consolidated as revenge, as a death cult, as a revolt against science and logic, as offensive tactics and strategies of the New Confederacy, as a force that at once does the militant and political work of a section of capitalism and, at the same time, is a response to globalism and neoliberalism.

Revenge because the far-right, steeped in racism, could not abide the Obama presidency and political advancements by people of color, however insufficient that administration was and however tenuous these advancements have been. A death cult because deteriorating social conditions are causing widespread misery and addiction and lifespans are generally decreasing. A death cult because the far-right has no answer to the pandemic and will surrender to it, or will sacrifice large numbers of people to the pandemic who they regard as expendable and as surplus populations. A death cult because individualism in the U.S. conspires with powerlessness and a lack of critical thinking skills to the point that self-harm and suicide, and not collective action, are our responses to oppression. Masses of people, and particularly white working-class people, struggle to come to terms with the reality that the capitalists have played us like chumps, and they seek refuge in self-destructive behaviors. A revolt against science and logic because these disprove superstitions, challenge the right-wing ideologically, challenge the death cult, and point to a human future.

The New Confederacy drew its strength from the remnants of the southern planters and aristocracy, their political servants, the segregationists, and the industrialists who moved production to the south. These forces then allied with other reactionary forces allied with agribusiness and meatpacking and sections of heavy industry in a desperate attempt to maintain profits. The south’s competitive edge has been dulled as automation has increased and as China becomes responsible for greater shares of the world’s gross domestic product. The New Confederacy thus represents a brutal form of economic and political management, or dictatorship we might say, that divides workers by race, age, gender, and citizenship/immigration status. Every murder by the cops has come as a means of taking revenge on people of color and the poor and as a means of disciplining all oppressed peoples and the entire working-class, regardless of the color of our skin. White privilege exists, and racism and class oppression are the fault lines of American society, but being “less oppressed” should not be confused with privilege.

When we say that the New Confederacy is consolidating as a fascist movement what we mean is that it is finding its political identity as an explicitly reactionary movement, that it is finding internal unity and is becoming self-aware, that it is gaining a consciousness of its role in carrying out the policies and actions required for racial and class oppression, and that its gangs are building cohesion through street brawls with BLM and anti-fascist demonstrators and the cops. The sudden abandonment of “Back the Blue” by the New Confederates here in Oregon signifies a stage of consolidation in their movement, a stage that occurs in most fascist movements. They experience internal contradictions and divisions, they’re aren’t without fault lines, but they also have unique aspects; their protests and violence are not spontaneous, and they will conform in every respect to other fascist movements.

The militant political work of a section of capitalism was accomplished in the Malheur occupation (a front for agribusiness), the giveaways to the energy sector and the repression of protests against the pipelines, the police and extra-judicial killings of people of color, the decimation of unions, the pressures brought by the anti-maskers and the people who want to keep businesses running during the pandemic. The thugs in the streets and in the suits are all about doing this work, and they use one another. We say that this is a response to globalism and neoliberalism, and that the street thugs and suits use one another, because our enemies do not come all from one social class and they are not (yet) of one mind. Some have no objective interest in the system and do what they do out of anger and despair and because they are losing whatever economic security they had and because it is so difficult to come to terms with being played by the capitalist elites. It is easier to blame the person of color---or, if you are a right-wing person of color, take on a colonized mindset---or an immigrant than it is to take responsibility and fight your boss, your landlord, the banks, and their defenders. The suits, on the other hand, represent some parts of finance capital (parts of the banking and real estate industries), agribusiness and meatpacking, and parts of the energy sector. If they could settle their disagreements with the larger financial sector and basic industry, and resolve problems of trade and hold on to world market share at the same time, we would find ourselves in a fascist state as soon as they felt threatened and motivated to take power. We’re not there yet, but we’re closer to that and to civil war than most of us realize.

Still, we spend too much time looking for one sign or another of fascism, instances of this or that class moving to the right. We follow Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables” remark, we allow talk of “white trash,” we spotlight particular corporations. And so we lose sight of Clara Zetkin’s famous point that the nucleus of fascist movements are "the politically homeless, the socially uprooted, the destitute and disillusioned." The fascists themselves have said “We want to glorify war---the only cure for the world---militarism, patriotism, the destructive gestures of the anarchists, the beautiful ideas which kill, and contempt for women.” (Flippo Tommaso Mainetti, founder of the Futurist movement and a supporter of Mussolini) The initial incoherence of the movement is not its failure or something for us to ridicule or debate; this incoherence is the movement’s strength.

Our liberal friends want to dissect and ridicule this incoherence and are shocked, shocked to find that Hillary Clinton’s deplorables would attempt a coup here. “This is not America!” they say. But the United States is the home base of coups the world over. “Our democracy!” they say. But this has always been a democracy for the wealthy---a democracy worth defending against the fascists and racists, but still a democracy for the wealthy. “Our democracy is sacred!”---but it isn’t. Democracy here is relative, as it is everywhere and always, and it is not above or beyond human beings and human experiences. “This is white privilege!”---but this mistakes a stage in fascist consolidation with the entirety of the fascist project and implies that anti-racism is, by itself, the counter to fascism.

And we have more liberal outrage: “Where the hell were the Capitol Police!” and “These people are traitors!” and “They should be tried for treason!” and “So disheartening to see the unrest/protests that are happening in our Nation's capital…I don't care what your political views are or who you voted for, this is NOT right. This is AMERICA!” and “Seditionists and domestic terrorists!” ---but this appropriation of conservative rhetoric does harm because it gives the work of defending democratic principles over to the police, it can be used against those of us who have or will occupy government buildings for good reason, these words come back to bite us whenever we use them, and this rhetoric privileges and obscures the true nature of the imperialist United States. It does matter who voted and who people voted for. The implication is that coups are okay elsewhere, but not here, and that the events of this week are something other than political. Forgotten is how and why the ball got dropped in 2015 when attempts were made at the federal level to list the fascist organizations for what they are and hell broke loose.

We and our radical friends have our own versions of this outrage. “This has killed the Republican Party!” and “This is a dreadful day for the right….The case can now be made that the entire GOP is bent on wrecking democracy, and the cops in every state have been actively involved. This is not a coup. It's a premature orgasm.” and “Trump is finished at this point. The failed lawsuits, street scuffles with militia yahoos and Proud Boy wannabes, and endless talking about 'Trump's coup' and whatever else is a distraction from the real struggles.”---these back-from-the-future pronouncements have yet to be realized, they say or imply that our opposition has imploded, they don’t look at how political struggle occurs, they talk about “real struggles” that do not (yet) have mass support and action.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

A Minimum Program For Social Change And Revolution

Several comrades recently put together a minimum program for social change leading to revolution. What this means is described below.

At the very end of this introduction is a link to the minimum program itself

People who identify with the goals of the minimum program in the short-run or in the long-run are encouraged to be in touch.

This minimum program is not the final word. Other comrades from around the U.S. are also thinking along these lines. The Left is going to have to adopt programs that speak to both winnable goals and carry us forward if we are going to make it through the current crises. Our primary task right now is in defeating the ultra-right in November, allying with others, winning over critical numbers of people to our programs through practical work, and moving from a defensive to an offensive position.

The logic of our position on defeating the ultra-right is given here.

This program owes a great deal to the Movement For Black Lives Platform.


INTRODUCTION      

A minimum program attempts to put forward reforms that can be won now, under capitalism, that will improve our lives, restore and extend democracy, and involve more people in the fight for a socialist future.

First, a minimum program attempts to build unity between socialists, nationally oppressed and working-class people, and non-socialists, on the basis of shared demands that can be won through unity, organizing and mass mobilization. A minimum program appeals to the core forces needed for social change because without the unity of those core forces change is impossible. The core social forces are workers, people of color, women, youth, LGBTQIA+ people, small farmers, middle-class people who are facing dislocation, and people who are politically liberal or centrist and who no longer have a political home. A minimum program provides a basis for discussion and forward movement. A movement for democracy can become a movement for radical democracy. A radical-democratic movement can become a revolutionary movement. A revolutionary movement can become a socialist movement. Socialism brings power to the workers and all of the oppressed.

Second, a minimum program guards against those who think that no reform can ever be radical enough and those who always put radical demands on the back burner. A minimum program does this by connecting demands to one another and building a program from those connections. A minimum program expresses confidence in the core forces. We understand that forward motion depends on theory, struggle, organization and leadership at work among the core forces. When these are weaker, there is little or no forward motion. When these are stronger, people learn and accomplish in a few weeks or months what it might take them years to accomplish otherwise.

Third, a minimum program attempts to describe the demands needed to beat back the corporations and the rich who control the corporations, racism, misogyny, bigotry and all of the prejudices and superstitions that divide the working-class and oppressed peoples. It attempts to build anti-imperialism and anti-monopoly capitalism on an inclusive and democratic basis. It presupposes that a broad and radical-democratic movement can win people over in large numbers and transform our lives. It also presupposes that the capitalists and the state will react harshly and that the only real protection anyone has is with their comrades.

Fourth, a minimum program represents an effort by socialists to break out of isolation, connect with the core forces mentioned above, join them in their struggles, test socialist theories and practice, and build a path to revolutionary-democratic power for oppressed peoples. Leadership and power come through organizing and fighting back against oppression. We are about full participation in working-class and nationally oppressed struggles, learning and sharing responsibilities with our comrades in struggle, taking on responsibilities in these struggles, and building leadership through action and accountability.

Fifth, these reforms build a bridge between the present and the future as more and more working class and oppressed people are drawn into the fight for a better world, and thus learn what democracy looks and feels like. As workers and oppressed people organize for radical social change, campaigns and movements will be sparked, which will necessarily raise the level of political development and self-organization of the working class and its allies. As workers and their allies struggle for their objectives, a sense of the power of a united working class and people becomes evident, and with this power, workers and their allies become increasingly aware of their ability to reconstruct society according to their own precepts and principles. In a word, the working class and its allies learn that we can do anything.

This minimum program owes a great debt to the Movement for Black Lives Platform. We welcome your criticism and support. We look forward to discussing these points with you and joining with you.

https://documentcloud.adobe.com/link/track?uri=urn%3Aaaid%3Ascds%3AUS%3Aa86bb8cc-4560-448f-867c-d54604b3a7bf

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Vote Democratic not in support of Biden (or another nominee) or against Trump, but in order to help defeat the ultra-right and raise the level of contradiction between a left-center coalition and the far-right



The Left in the United States seems to be forever at a crossroads, and there seems to always be someone present proclaiming that being at a crossroads constitutes a crisis for the Left. These polemics have been with us for at least 75 years. People come to the Left and leave, and times and conditions change, but for some of us only an unreasonable and impoverished sense of crisis remains.

The problems with these formulations seem clearer to me at this moment than they have in the past. We on the Left can be so inward-looking that we speak in languages that those around us often don’t understand and have no reason to concern themselves with. We have an exaggerated sense of our own importance. We adopt a middle-class framework when we fail to understand why everyone doesn’t share our opinions. We assume that all of those who disagree with us have been duped by the media or can’t think logically, and we either don’t struggle with people over ideology or we make conversation a one-way street when we do. There is also a middle-class idea prevalent on the Left that says when we don’t get what we want from an organization or a movement we are free from our obligations to struggle over ideas and free to walk away.

People arriving on the Left now are arriving under different circumstances than people who arrived four or six years ago, and those people arrived under different conditions than people who were radicalized in the Occupy movement or in the 2008 period. Radicalization today might come through the strike wave of the last two years, through the Sanders movement, or through the way that the COVID-19 virus has emerged and is being handled. There are qualitative differences between these people and those who were radicalized under the impact of Black Lives Matter and related movement. These new lefts, working-class lefts, and people of color lefts are also different than the Old Left that is passing on and the radicals who joined the movement in the 1970s and 1980s. We may agree on a few basics or share an instinctive anti-capitalism, but there our commonality and solidarity often stop.

The jail breaks from these problems are found in studying Marxist theory with others, engaging in the hard work of organizing for change, critiquing our actions and views with others, improving our collective practice, and returning again to Marxist theory as a guidepost. The immediate barriers to doing this are that individualism runs deep in the United States and in our movement, that theory and practice look like salad bars to many of us, that the leading Left organization in the U.S. discourages engagement with Marxism, and that we have not found a widely-agree-upon way to combine theory and practice to win people over to revolutionary politics. In fact, we lack agreement on what “revolutionary politics” means and how important it is.

In better times---in a revolutionary moment---we would not have to struggle over the definitions of words. We would have general agreement on what words like “capitalism,” “socialism,” “fascism,” and “solidarity” mean. We would feel committed to struggling with one another as comrades. We would not be in a place where so many of us begin with saying “I believe that…” and then make an essentially moral point based only on our morality and leave it there, not basing our opinions on theory or practice or Marxist science. We would not believe that all ideas have equal weight. We would uphold the principle that ideas are tied to classes and lived experiences. But we are not in a revolutionary moment.




The Sanders movement has been a necessary defensive effort. The movement’s program formed around undoing the damage done by past Republican and Democratic administrations and by the 2007-2008 economic meltdown, and so it has been a patchwork of needed reforms that speak to almost everyone and no one at the same time. It could speak from the standpoint of policy and had a needed flexibility on policy issues. Its collective defense of its populist and social democratic principles and its resiliency have been admirable. The movement’s ability to inspire people and birth its future in young and dynamic representatives to the left of Sanders illustrates how political struggle moves forwards and backwards in stages. The Sanders movement has helped to lay a foundation for on-going organizing and political victories. If the Left does not drop the ball, and if we change course and hold the biggest part of our base and expand that base through alliances, this could be the last election in which we face such limited choices.

On the other hand, the Sanders movement has been a cross-class movement, but it has barely reached the point of being an alliance. It has been over-confident and dogmatic. It did not ally with Warren’s movement or move those forces leftward, ensuring that neither would succeed. It could not hold a coalition of the Democratic Party’s left together.

The Left bears some responsibility for the Sanders movement’s naivete. This naivete and the Left’s internal weaknesses work together to prevent us from acknowledging our weaknesses and errors. This allows the Sanders movement and the Left to blame Americans and Trump for our failures and to excuse ourselves from self-criticism. This inability to do self-criticism and change course means that our errors will not be corrected. We allowed the Sanders movement to substitute for a mature Left and speak to the American people in our name instead of doing the hard work ourselves. Large numbers of people have moved in our direction, but the Left cannot win a national campaign under current conditions.

The Sanders movement is not what a strategic and tactical offensive from the Left should look like. Neither was Occupy, or the recent strike wave, or the Warren campaign. These are all notable and necessary political formations, but they are not strategic and tactical offensives by the Left. The question is not about the “purity” of these formations. Rather, the point revolves around the related questions of whether or not a strategic and tactical offensive from the Left is possible at this stage and what the relationships should be between the Left, the social movements, and the political center. Now the question is how the Left should relate to the Biden campaign and the political center and how we can defeat Trump.

In a Left-led campaign we would be able to distinguish between stages of struggle and think in terms of strategic leadership. We would have agreement and clarity around objectives and distinguish between our primary and reserve forces. These forces would be mobilized to unite large numbers of people and exploit our opposition’s vulnerabilities. In a struggle for democracy this would mean building a majority. In a more revolutionary moment, a majority might not be as decisive. Having a party of our own and rooting our party among the masses of working-class and specially exploited and oppressed peoples, with a tested political line and leadership structures, would be more decisive.

Political alignment would be very different than it is now. We would know what is important to the masses of working-class and oppressed peoples and what they’re taking action on. National campaigns would not depend on six or eight great senators and articulating needed reform and make-up packages. Something like a broad united front would exist at the grassroots, and it would be led by women, people of color, the working-class and all of the core forces needed for social change. Those core forces might or might not remain in the Democratic Party under those conditions. We would have many candidates and many electoral successes, all backed up by street heat.

But we live within the working-class that exists, not the one that we want to exist. The new left, and particularly the youth and many of those most attached to the Sanders and Warren campaigns, are struggling with this. It’s difficult to acknowledge that our views are not widely shared or have not been well-communicated. It’s also difficult to dig in and summon the patience to be critical and self-critical in a Marxist framework and to go about the work of organizing and thinking 10 years ahead. I doubt that many of those who have come to us through the Sanders movement will make this leap now. They may find a place in a cause-of-the-month DSA that is preoccupied with processes and policies and never gets down to Marxism or they may withdraw from politics entirely. It is unlikely, though not impossible, that DSA will be fully transformed and will educate them in socialist basics. This is an all-around loss because we all have much to learn from one another and DSA has its moments in the sun.




Let’s step back and consider the following:

1.       The core forces needed for social change remain largely within the Democratic Party.
2.       The Left needs these core forces, and should be about the work of giving them the space to look leftwards.
3.       The core forces have divided their votes between Sanders, Warren, and Biden. They constitute an important bloc in the rank-and-file of the political center. Those who live in the Black Belt and Solid South made a necessary political calculation to vote as they did. That calculation and their votes must be respected.
4.       To remain aloof from the core forces, to view involvement with working-class and oppressed peoples as optional in any way, and to assume that Left or progressive politics constitutes an entitlement to leadership among them is to abandon radical politics.
5.       Abstaining from voting with the core forces and struggling with them and learning from them breaks faith with the core forces. Breaking faith is a final and decisive act. No one can abstain from working with the core forces, or working against their interests, and expect to be welcomed in later and taken seriously.
6.       Our American history has evolved under the special conditions of the color and class lines being determinative factors. The struggles waged by people of color and working-class people have moved the center to the left, or have created openings for this to happen. Lincoln was forced to adopt an abolitionist program because of slave revolts. Roosevelt was forced to open the New Deal by working-class upsurges.
7.       The Democratic Party exists as a cross-class alliance of various contradictory social forces. In this sense it is not a bourgeois party, and it seems unlikely that can be transformed into a labor or social democratic party. We cannot say that the parties or the candidates are the same.
8.       Americans have not undertaken the great fights for social change when things are at their worst. Rather, our struggles gain support when social conditions begin to shift for the better and when advancement is blocked or progress is slowed. The labor movement of the 1930s did not make its greatest advances in the depths of the Depression but when bad conditions eased somewhat. The modern civil rights movement took on a mass character when social advancements were made possible and were promised but were not equally distributed in the post-World War Two economic boom. The Left would have been frozen out of these movements had we not abandoned our dogmatism and sectarianism.
9.       The “Bernie or Bust” and anti-Biden rhetoric from some people on the Left shows a lack of flexibility and a distance from the working-class and oppressed peoples. It also reflects the opportunism of social democrats and anarchists. This finds its main expression in DSA. This lack of flexibility doesn’t work for Sanders, since he has rejected a “Bernie or bust” position. It does not help move Biden or any other potential nominee to the left. And since it finds its primary expression in DSA, with its social democratic and anarchist biases, the “Bernie or Bust” and anti-Biden rhetoric complicates building a revolutionary political party in the future.
10.   The Henry Wallace 1948 Presidential campaign was a desperate but noble attempt to hold on to the Left of the New Deal coalition under Roosevelt and mobilize for jobs, equality, peace, and democracy. That effort had internal weaknesses and was crushed by the onset of the Cold War, but sections of the Wallace movement held the line and influenced the New Left years later. The Humphrey and McCarthy campaigns were insurance policies against a resurgence of the left-of-center and people-of-color coalition that had moved the Wallace campaign. Jesse Jackson’s 1988 Presidential campaign carried some of the heritage of the Wallace campaign with it. Jackson was to the left of where Sanders is today and did relatively well. The Sanders campaign has proceeded as if it is the first of its kind, and people entering the socialist movement today lack a needed sense of history and development.
11.   If we fully participated in the Democratic Party on the basis of being the forces needed to carry out the most progressive aspects of their program where it intersects with ours, and if we used this as a means of learning and teaching and as a platform to advocate for a more aggressive political push by the Democrats, we would stand a better chance of winning great numbers of the core forces to our side and changing the debate within the Democratic Party. We need the will to earn leadership and respect by doing the hard work in principled ways. This is not about reforming or transforming the Democratic Party, which might be a by-product of our work if it occurred, but of making socialism and socialist practice accessible to people at the grassroots. It would be better to attempt this and to change course later if it did not work or to be expelled by a Democratic establishment then it would be to reject attempting this.


 Consider the following practical-philosophical points:

1.       The most advanced or radical ideas are not those that we come up with in our heads. Rather, the most advanced and radical ideas are those that we can rally most of the core forces around.
2.       The most “revolutionary” ideas are not always the most radical. A “revolutionary” position may feel good, but it has to meet the tests of resonating with the core forces and fitting into the ebb and flow of organizing and struggle.
3.       It is struggle that resolves differences. Investigate and study, act, evaluate, and act again in order to arrive at a correct position. Sterile debates set us back.
4.       There are correct and incorrect ideas. We discover what is correct and incorrect by acting with others.
5.       No tactic is wrong in itself, but strategies and tactics must correspond to stages or moments in real time. Abstaining from voting or from allying with the political center might make sense when we have tens of millions of people with us. Who needs an alliance with the center or participation in elections when we can wage mass strikes and civil disobedience to win radical demands? But abstaining from voting now breaks faith with the core forces and isolates us.
6.       To say that Biden or some other Democratic nominee is unelectable is to say that there are inevitabilities, which is to deny the power of the people and the ebb and flow of struggle. It is the people who make history, not defeatists. We mobilized millions to defeat fascism in Europe, over 100,000 people participated in the Long March in China, we mobilized to beat Jim Crow segregation in the US, we overthrew apartheid, and we beat American imperialism in Cuba and Vietnam. Our history is that of being told that the prisons will outlast us—and then we tear the prisons down. We can stop fascism in the U.S.
7.       Political alliances are a necessary foundation for political strategies and tactics.
8.       A movement for democracy can become a movement for radical democracy. A radical-democratic movement can become a revolutionary movement. A revolutionary movement can become a socialist movement. Socialism brings power to the workers and all of the oppressed. There are necessary stages to development, and occasional leaps, that call forth different alliances, but alliances are needed at each stage.
9.       Alliances are a matter for the present, not the future. We are in a defensive stage and engaged in a struggle for democracy. Under these conditions our main task is to unite the many against the few, build capacity to fight and win within that cross-class and all-people’s alliance, stop the Republicans, involve or win over tens of millions of people, and build a path to democratic power. That will move us from being on the defense to going on the offense.
10.   In doing so we must be honest about our politics and state our disagreements with others, but this must be done in constructive ways. This implies that we have a political line and are grounded in that line and that we are rejecting whatever seeks to substitute for a political line.
11.   We are not anarchists. We support the conquest of state power by the working-class and oppressed peoples, the creation of the democratic means to carry out planning and distribution of value and wealth, self-determination for oppressed peoples, and the eventual use of legal coercive means against the exploiters.


Some on the Left talk about “class struggle elections” and a “rank-and-file strategy” as if the center of political gravity is with the Left, as if the class struggle is on the offensive now, as if the Left is leading the class struggle and doesn’t need allies, and as if union leaders form the main barrier against class struggles. This is self-isolation, an add-on to the “Bernie or Bust” tendency. DSA and others who roll with this are painting themselves into a corner at a time when there is a breeze---not a wind, but a breeze---in our sails. Let’s instead talk about “class struggle elections” and a “rank-and-file strategy” in terms of the labor movement leading a coalition with a “bargaining for the common good” platform; mass union organizing; the need to build worker leadership in the joint struggle against the Republicans, monopoly capital, and COVID-19; or in winning survival space and gains in the Solid or Black Belt South, among indigenous peoples, and in immigrant communities.


 In line with this, I am recommending

1.       That the Left devote our collective energies where they exist to the study of Marxism.
2.       That we actively engage in debates and in political alliances with the center and that we leverage our positive relations with the center to win a more progressive Democratic Party platform and move forward more progressive candidates.
3.       That we act within social movements on the basis of where the most progressive aspects of the Democratic platform and our program intersects.
4.       That we push for a debt jubilee, jobs or income now, a Green New Deal, and a full minimum program for social change based on the programs of the Movement for Black Lives, the Sanders campaign, and the labor movement.
5.       That we commit to voting for Democratic Party nominees now.
6.       That we support using the Democratic Party convention as a primary means of making the case against Trump to the American people.
7.       That we vote Democratic not in support of Biden (or another nominee) or against Trump, but in order to help defeat the ultra-right and raise the level of contradiction between a left-center coalition and the far-right.
8.       That we prepare ourselves to either provide an opening for a Democratic president and the center to move leftwards if they win or to wage the most militant workplace and community struggles possible in coalition with the core forces if the Democrats lose.
9.       That we endorse a revolutionary path and, in that context, work for Democratic candidates without endorsing them.