[Marxism] Fwd: On the U.S. socialist group Solidarity: Let the dead bury the dead - IV

Joaquín Bustelo jbustelo at gmail.com
Tue Jan 7 03:34:21 MST 2014


You will want to read Part I, II and III for this to make sense. I've 
been forced to break it up due to a Marxmail censorship bot that doesn't 
like long posts.

This is the last part

In addition I've not reformatted the text for Marxmail's luddite "text 
only" policy. If what's below makes no sense becausde block quotes, 
links, etc. have been lost, complain to Louis. I'll send a copy of my 
real, original post to anyone who asks for it.



-------- Original Message --------
Subject: 	On the U.S. socialist group Solidarity: Let the dead bury the 
dead
Date: 	Tue, 07 Jan 2014 04:37:34 -0500
From: 	Joaquín Bustelo <jbustelo at gmail.com>
To: 	Activists and scholars in Marxist tradition 
<marxism at greenhouse.economics.utah.edu>




*A new period: depression and Occupy*

We are in a new period. We are finishing the sixth year after the 
economic downturn that began in late 2007, and we are still in an 
economic depression. One sixth of those still officially in the labor 
force are unemployed or underemployed; and if the rate of labor force 
participation of people of working age had remained constant --in other 
words, if those who have given up looking for work are included--, the 
figure would be well over one in five. The "old" jobs that were lost 
were, about two-thirds of them,  better paying than your "average" job. 
Most "new" jobs pay less than the "average" (meaning "median") wage. 
Many of these "new" jobs are government-subsidized through food stamps 
and other "welfare," as well as corporate tax breaks. There is a 
tremendous decline in government services, at the federal,  state and 
local levels not to mention a complete paralysis in social and economic 
policy. And the political, intellectual and moral degradation of the 
United States (Guantanamo concentration camp and torture center, drone 
assassinations, etc.) is even more breathtaking, though going into that 
further would take us very far afield.

Two years ago we saw a mass upsurge in response to this situation: the 
Occupy movement. Bourgeois commentators decried that the movement did 
not have one or more central demands through which it could be co-opted, 
diverted into electoral cretinism, or channeled into non-profiteer 
single-issue-ism. Thus the Obama administration organized a clandestine, 
coordinated campaign to use petty local ordinances and mass arrests to 
disorganize and disperse the movement. Given the limitations of the 
movement and especially of  the forces it looked to for leadership, this 
campaign largely succeeded.

But even in the aftermath of the occupations, "occupy" events could 
still attract a broad layer of activists -- way, way broader than any 
socialist group (or even all socialist groups, see for example last 
June's Left Forum in New York).  And AFAIK, no organized socialist group 
made any gains from Occupy -- on the contrary, people were drawn out of 
the groups into Occupy. In the case of Solidarity the failure to throw 
ourselves into Occupy in the way that tens of thousands of other 
activists did, to me clearly indicated that the organization is 
moribund, and should not continue on its current basis.

Rather than trying to ape a model from the cold war era with an updated 
"basis of political agreement," shouldn't we subject the very /idea /of 
such a document to the same questioning that led to the conclusion that 
the /content /of the original was outdated.

 From the lack of discussion, this /new/ document does not arise from 
any organic, from below process, convergence, or felt need.

*Values and identities**:**not principles, demands, or program*

So what is it that held "Occupy" together? Not a demand, but an identity 
and a grievance. The identity was "we are the 99%," the grievance quite 
simply that the 1% are screwing us over, socially, economically and 
politically.

If we look back at the great revolutions, we will see that what drove 
them is something much more akin to what drove occupy.

In the Great French Revolution, it was liberty, equality and fraternity. 
In Russia it was peace, land and bread. Eleven years ago, in the wake of 
the attempted coup against President Hugo Chavez in  Venezuela, I 
analyzed in some detail the sentiments that have driven the emergence of 
revolutionary movements in Latin America -- an analysis that what some 
call the "pink tide" that has spread in Latin America since then has 
confirmed.

    I think it is important for Marxists to understand the character of the
    movements through which revolutions arise in Latin America. These
    present
    themselves, typically, neither as movements for workers rule nor as
    movements for national independence, not explicitly, but rather as
    movements
    to ennoble or raise up the nation from its current degradation.
    [Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua: revolutionary movements for national
    salvation
    <http://archives.econ.utah.edu/archives/marxism/2002w39/msg00181.html>.]


So I would suggest that rather than a programmatic statement, we start 
thinking in terms of the essential core values or sentiments that IN 
FACT hold our group together. But I fear that if we do so we may well 
discover that apart from a vague belief in the need for a socialist 
organization, there isn't much there. Yes, lip service to some sort of 
"working class" or "proletarian" orientation -- but I would suggest that 
this is a merely verbal coincidence that masks no real common understanding.

I believe we are in a political stage of the re-emergence of "class 
consciousness" --anti-capitalist /political /consciousness/--/ in the 
United States and other countries, and not just imperialist ones. I 
think that was the significance of Occupy. Just take a glance:
/
*Tens of thousands*/**dropped everything else and became full-time 
occupiers.

/*Thousands */of them were willing to be arrested.

*/Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions /*came into contact with the 
encampments, sometimes just for a few hours, others consistently 
although they did not join full time; and

/*Tens of millions */of people identified with the movement.

All the bullshit talk about the debt crisis was drowned out by alarm 
over growing inequality --genuine alarm on the part of some in the 
media, but mostly a reflection of the panic among the rich that they 
been caught looting the nation and destroying the standard of living of 
working people.

What does it say that just about all socialist groups were completely 
marginalized, and in our case, not even able to attract a single new 
member out of that movement?

These socialist groups are the end product of a long tradition and 
evolution. They arose from the working class and other social movements 
that long ago dissipated although their remains continue a zombie-like 
existence in the form of unions, non-profits and similar. From time to 
time a spark rekindles these movements but generally the conflagration 
does not last.

I think the 2010-2012 international wave of occupy-type movements were 
the symptoms and initial forms of a re-emerging radicalization with a 
double base working people and the youth, or if you prefer, a single 
base of working-class youth acting with the sympathy of a significant 
layer of their older siblings and parents.

***Abandon the past and look to the future*

I think we need to look for new approaches and models that have come out 
of or arisen with the new experiences of this depression. Leading up to 
our last convention, I proposed that we invite the Philly Socialists, 
whom I had run into at the Left Forum. Other comrades in the leadership 
quite rationally and in keeping with our history and our norms said this 
issue should go to our Philadelphia comrades, who reported they rarely 
ran into them and as far as they knew they were a tiny grouplet.

In August I had the privilege of attending the Philly Socialist's second 
annual leadership retreat. There was one other "older" guest, i.e., 
someone who was more than half my age. He was 35.

Of the other 25 people in attendance, only one was 31, half my age: 
everyone else was younger.

This is a group that was started in the summer of 2011, right before 
occupy. The founders say they started with 3 or 5 members, and 2 years 
later, they had 125, although "membership" in the Philly socialists is a 
squishy category. But if, say 20 of the 25 at the retreat were hard core 
members comparable in commitment and activism --even if not experience-- 
to the median Soli member, I believe certain that there are at the very 
least another 10 or 20 or even 30 more comrades who are just as 
committed and active in the group, who for one reason or another did not 
make it to the retreat. And there may well be another 20 or more who are 
somewhat active and committed to the group.

Think about that. This group has gone from, say, five, to a 
Soli-comparable membership of (I believe) roughly fifty in /two 
years//./ Or say just to 20, only the ones I could physically verify at 
their summer school retreat/encampment.

That is not exactly the least successful socialist group in Philly, nor 
the Northeast, nor the entire country.

Then there's the other part: if they're so successful, why don't we ever 
see them or hear about them?

*A different way of organizing*

The answer is because their activities and approach to political work is 
completely different from our own. It resembles more the Black Panther 
Party and the way that party was built, which wasn't just, or even 
mainly through newspaper sales, coalition work, and "interventions" at 
demonstrations. It was through an approach they called "serve the 
people, body and soul," and embodied especially in their free breakfast 
for children program -- which the bourgeoisie viewed as such a 
devastating attack on their political/ideological hegemony that they 
quickly had their state counter with the breakfast for poor children at 
public schools program that still exists down to our days.

This  may seem like apolitical "do gooder" activity, but it actually 
harkens back to the very early stages of the development of the 
socialist movement among working people in the early and mid-1800s, with 
workers clubs, mutual aid societies and so on.

The first project of the Philly socialist comrades was English classes 
for immigrants. Which was especially striking to me for a reason:

This is the social layer of our day that looks something like what Lenin 
and his friends in the Third International understood by the term 
"proletariat" as applied to the United States. It is the Latino and 
other immigrant workers and especially the undocumented.

In Atlanta, I /think /know at least one way of what relating to this 
community looks like. It is through the immigrant-based, immigrant-led 
Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, "our" radio station (not 
technically but in reality), and the rich spectrum of other groups and 
efforts that have created an entire ecosystem, a movement that exists 
not just in Atlanta but throughout the southeast region.

But I don't know of any similar grass-roots groups/efforts in Philly or 
elsewhere outside the Southeast (save for AZ). I may not have come up 
with the orientation this group of Philly comrades came up with. But I 
think it speaks very highly of them that with a handful of comrades, 
this is where they started.

*Conclusion: To thine own self be true*

I've been writing this paper for weeks. That is quite unlike me. I 
usually write political tracts in one sitting, although often I will 
rewrite them in a second, and even third sitting. I did this even back 
in the typewriter days: I would rewrite everything from the top each 
time I sat down to work.

With computers and the Internet, I had to train myself to not hit the 
"send" button just as soon as I felt  I had finished, but wait until the 
morning, and give it one last look [I almost always finish what I write 
at night].

In this case I've written time, and time and time again, and never been 
seriously tempted to hit the "send" button.

Until now.

I've just come back from the vigil demanding the closing down of the 
Stewart Immigration Detention Center (said to be the largest in the 
country and located  on the outskirts of the "city" of Lumpkin (pop: 
1,145, or 2,741 if you include the prisoners 
<http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=DEC_10_DP_DPDP1#>)//and// 
the seat of Stewart County, the poorest county in the state of Georgia. 
I also went to the School of the Americas Watch activities, held less 
than an hour north in Columbus. The /majority/ of those present were 
college age or just a little older; most of the younger attendees were 
women. I was there as part of the "beyond borders/más allá de las 
fronteras" program on WRFG (/*R*/adio /*F*/ree /*G*/eorgia), and kept 
asking people, in that capacity, why they were there.

None of the answers were couched in the sort of language that our basis 
of political agreement, new or old,  deploys. Instead they were in the 
sort of terms we use to name ourselves, to say who, what and why we are: 
Solidarity; socialism, feminism, anti-racism; working people organizing 
to protect themselves and people like them.

My gut tells me we do not need a new "Basis of political agreement" but 
a new way of thinking about who we are, what we should be, how we should 
present ourselves. We should be a lot LESS clearly defined than when we 
first arose as an organization: those splits, fights and fusions came to 
an  end.

A dead end.

The new basis of political agreement, inspired by and required by the 
obsolescence of the old one, is a mausoleum to our revered past.

By adopting it, we remain forever pallbearers at the burial of the left 
of the XXth Century, ready to throw ourselves into the freshly-dug grave 
just as soon as we've laid the casket in its embrace.

Let the dead bury the dead.

There is only one thing a group that has had the arrogance and the 
audacity to name itself Solidarity should be:

Unbound by the past, fast into the future, forever young.

Joaquín








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