[Marxism] How leaderships are formed in mass movements, and what should be done now in the immigrant rights movement

Anthony Boynton northbogota at yahoo.com
Wed Apr 12 20:28:28 MDT 2006

Revolutionaries should fight for the immigrant rights
movement to WIN

I like Javier’s post (Subject: Re: [Marxism] What
should revolutionaries do in the immigrant rights
movement? From: Javier A <javierunderground at yahoo.com>
Date: Wed, 12 Apr 2006 15:09:31 -0700 (PDT)) it shows
he is thinking about big issues. 

But I think he is confused about how mass movement’s
form, how their leaderships form, and what – if
anything – that has to do with revolutionaries.

In my view revolutionaries should always join the
struggles of the working class and oppressed whenever
they can help them advance.

This means, from my point of view, revolutionaries in
the immigrant rights movement should be thinking about
how the immigrant rights movement can win.  That
should always be the first thing to think about when
you are in any struggle, from a bar fight on up. 

In this context, starting with the problems of the
trade union movement (as Javier’s post did) will
probably get you nowhere, no matter how inextricably
they may be linked to the question

(A good place to start for revolutionaries would be to
avoid saying or writing things like “inextricably
linked to the question”)

So, for my money, the first thing to define is what
constitutes “winning”?

The Republican leaders retreat on criminalizing
undocumented workers was the first big, and easy
victory. The movement has already won something. Can
it win more? When and how?

Probably it can completely derail the House version of
immigration reform. Possibly it can win a sweeping
amnesty. Maybe it can win citizenship rights for a
large number of immigrants. Probably it can not win
open borders without a socialist revolution on both
sides of the border.

In any case, if it is going to win anything else, it
needs to keep mobilizing masses of people.

What is the key issue that can mobilize masses,
despite the possibility that their leaders might try
to demobilize them?

Answering this question is the first key tactical task
of any real revolutionary in the immigrant rights

My guess is that the answer will be something like
“Full Amnesty for All Now!” This directly attacks the
three tiered divide and conquer approach of the
Kennedy-McCain Bill, and speaks to the immediate needs
of all undocumented immigrants. (Whether or not this
speaks to the mood of the millions of people who have
mobilized themselves is a question that I can not
answer.) Maybe many of them think that this is just
too much to ask for, and they will not demonstrate for
it. But, maybe they have become emboldened to reach
for the sky (or what they thought was the sky a short
time ago.)

In any case this demand speaks to the immediate needs
of all those in the struggle. It is a very limited
democratic right.

How far the movement can go is anybody’s guess. The
Bush administration is clearly limping, with smoke
coming out everywhere. Whether it will crash and burn
before the next presidential elections is an
interesting question beyond the scope of this note –
but that issue is clearly in the back of many people’s
minds and it gives people hope – when the enemy is
weak, we are strong.

The second thing revolutionaries should probably pay
attention to is creating a broad and internally
democratic movement. That is a tough thing to
accomplish, especially at the start. Very few leaders
of big established organizations want to have
internally democratic organizations (this includes
most Communists, Social-Democrats, trade union
leaders, business leaders, church leaders,  bourgeois
politicians and movement leader types). Democracy gets
in the way of making deals.

However, a movement that makes decisions where rank
and filers can vote on big decisions is the only way
to short-cut deals to demobilize people.

That kind of deal is almost certainly in the works
now. I would bet my daughter’s dowry that the
Democratic party would like to channel this movement
into a get-out-the-vote drive for Latino Democrats,
and Democrats in general, in the November elections. 

This means that they do not want any slogan like
“Amnesty” (Let alone “Full Amnesty”, and please don’t
say “for all”). They probably want the Kennedy version
of reform to be the movement’s program.

Will they succeed?

Probably in the short term. That is if no alternative
leadership arises which can bring out large numbers of
people to demonstrate for a more radical program
before November. Or if the spontaneous outpouring of
pent up immigrant political energy is just so
unstoppable that people keep demonstrating even
without organization and leadership (unlikely, but not

This is where a broad based democratic movement
umbrella organization comes in. The rank and file will
probably support the idea of “amnesty”, and may
support the idea of continuing to demonstrate rather
than – or even alongside – a get out the vote campaign
for the Democrats.

If this movement can survive the Democrats effort to
co-opt and derail it before November, then you might
have the opportunity to really raise other key issues 
(like the issue of real wages.) 

Javier speculates about what Piolin and Cucuy – two
Spanish language radio celebrities important in the
movement in Southern California – might or might not
do. He probably knows better than the rest of us, but
it’s a bad idea to second guess what other people are
going to do.  Lots of non-revolutionary people have
led movements that became massive and militant, and
won major victories. Who knows what Piolin might do.
My point is, you should judge people in the movement,
even leaders who you think are crooks, by what they
do, not by what you expect them to do because of your
preconceived ideas.

If this movement lasts and becomes a historic mass
movement for democratic rights and social equality –
like the civil rights movement – then the real leaders
of the movement are being formed now. Who knows who
they will be, and where they will come from. 

They will be chosen because the mass of people in the
movement trust them and believe in them. Because they
express better than others the consciousness of the
movement, and because they can also maneuver in mass
meeting, and in the back room. (It could be Javier. It
could be Piolin. It could be some nun or priest or
trade union leader or housewife.

As far as linking the trade unions to this movement,
the issue should be fought in the unions as one that
will strengthen all workers. Workers with rights are
less afraid to fight than workers who have none.
Unions should join the struggle for immigrant rights.
It’s a bread and butter issue.

I hope Piolin and Cucuy decide to become socialist
revolutionaries, along with millions of their

Post Script Regarding Revolutionary leadership.

Every movement creates its own leadership. When mass
movements become revolutionary, they sometimes create
revolutionary leaderships. This is what happened in
Russia – not in 1917, but in 1906. That revolutionary
leadership, created in the failed 1906 Revolution, was
the key to victory in 1917. It does not exist now in
the little revolutionary groups, no matter how
strongly they desire to be revolutionary leaderships.
Can those little groups become revolutionary
leaderships? Can any of their members become
revolutionary leaders? The answers depend more on big
forces of society than upon those groups and their
members. If any of them are lucky – or unlucky –
enough to find themselves participating in a real
revolution, they will become part of the revolutionary
leadership to the extent that they become part of the
living movement and fight for it to win. Maybe the
stuff they read about ´theory´will help them fight
better. Maybe it will just confuse them.

Until a revolution comes along, the only thing a
sincere revolutionary can do is try to help the
struggles that are happening win their immediate
goals, learn something from the struggles, and attract
other people to your revolutionary goals in whatever
way you can.

All the best, Anthony

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