[Marxism] Fwd: On the U.S. socialist group Solidarity: Let the dead bury the dead - IV
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
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
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
I think it is important for Marxists to understand the character of the
movements through which revolutions arise in Latin America. These
themselves, typically, neither as movements for workers rule nor as
movements for national independence, not explicitly, but rather as
to ennoble or raise up the nation from its current degradation.
[Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua: revolutionary movements for national
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
/*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
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
In this case I've written time, and time and time again, and never been
seriously tempted to hit the "send" button.
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
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
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.
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