The USA far left

Alex LoCascio alexlocascio at
Wed Nov 13 12:22:44 MST 2002

At the risk of once again provoking the ire of Solidarity members lurking about on Marxmail, and further cementing my reputation as a disgruntled crank in that milieu, I'll add some thoughts to Lou's judgements on Solidarity's failure to spearhead a far-left regroupment in the U.S.

As Adam Levenstein and Erik Toren point out, this really doesn't have much to do with some lingering Stalinophobia.  What's left unsaid is exactly what the roadblock is.

Plain and simple, there exists a minority but nonetheless hugely influental current within Solidarity, emerging from the Draper wing, for whom trade union work, and only trade union work, is the all-encompassing focus for any socialist organization.

Without wanting to cast aspersions on the modest but nonetheless notable payoffs of this perspective (and the advocates of this perspective do indeed have a rather churlish tendency to assume that criticism of this perspective automatically connotes condemnation of the work informed by it), any reasonable observer with an understanding of Solidarity's internal functioning and a cursory familiarity with it's history knows that such an overweening syndicalism is not likely to engage the attention or enthusiasm of the majority of activists today who answer to the self-description of "socialist."

Furthermore, while nobody would presume to tell the TDU and Labor Notes folks to stop doing what they're doing (on the contrary, I think there would probably be unanimous agreement by everyone on this list that they should continue to do exactly what they're doing), they nonetheless developed a rather irritating habit over the course of the last 5 or 6 years of presuming to tell other activists in the organization, including those with no actual connection to the organized worker's movement (the vast majority of Solidarity members, despite the mythologies that seem to have been constructed around the organization).

(before proceeding further, I should note that from the time of leaving high school up until the time I left the U.S., trade union work was pretty much my *sole* arena of activity, so this certainly isn't a case of labor envy or some such thing)

Now, I don't want to discuss the merits of the various "industrialization" attempts by various grouplets in the 1970s (all of which ended in qualified failure, including even the IS, if one wishes to be honest.  Labor Notes and TDU would qualify more as happy accidents than unqualified successes, considering that the IS, like every other group in the mid-70s, was projecting a grab for state power around 1982 or so,not simply having some decent reform projects).

Nonetheless, it must be said that the comprehensiveness of such a tactic usually rests upon the successful mobilization of a tightly-organized cadre organization, where members can simply be ordered to and from various industries.

As most listmembers no doubt already know, Solidarity is no such tightly-organized cadre organization.  As a result, this led to a tragi-comic opera situation in the late-90s/early '00 whereby a series of resolutions and pronouncements were issued affirming the character of Solidarity to be that of an organization primarily concerned with trade union work, despite the fact that probably no more than a *COUPLE DOZEN* members or so were actually engaged in such work.

The organizational upshot of such a situation should be clear.  While Solidarity is engaged in discussions with organizations like FRSO, some of whose members also engage in serious and notable trade union work, it nonetheless has completely missed the boat in terms of trying to parlay the post-Seattle youth radicalization into any sort of organizational growth.  Individuals (hell, why not name names?) such as Mike Parker, even made prounouncements to the effect that this movement was DOA after Seattle, that youth radicalization was useful only insofar as such youth could be convinced to take industry jobs, and that Solidarity's "focus" (again, the focus of a maximum of 24 people or so) would continue to be trade union work.

I suppose now I'll be subject to the regular salvos of abuse, but such a discussion about real failings needs to take place, *and not just inside Solidarity* (for such a self-proclaimed democratic organization, it has a remarkable aversion to airing such controversies outside of leadership meetings, let alone outside the organization).

The success or failure of the Solidarity regroupment project (and frankly, I'm of the opinion that it's time to cut one's losses, though I'd welcome evidence to the contrary) ultimately hinges upon it's ability to have a rational discussion of these failures, rather than just assuming that anyone lobbing these critiques just wants to shit on the lifelong work of some people (Solidarity's record on welcoming internal dissent, rather than engaging in high-school like pariah politics and ostracism, is not very good).

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