[Marxism] Critique of Solidarity in one piece

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Jan 7 07:26:26 MST 2014

Some members of the U.S. socialist organization Solidarity, of which I 
am a member, have written me privately expressing disappointment, even 
distress in reaction to my post from Sunday about the paralysis of this 
organization, and the collapse of [what looks like from where I sit] its 
centralized functioning, especially the incapacity of the National 
Committee, Political Committee, National Office and National Staff to 
maintain in operation something as basic as an email list-serve.

As a way of explaining my stance, let me fill in some of the background: 
Prior to last summer's national convention, I was of the opinion that in 
the best of all possible worlds, Solidarity might continue as some sort 
of network or association of comrades but one that recognized that it 
was not the political organization that could unite and be the main 
political identity, standard or vehicle for strategic dialogue and 
reflection of revolutionary socialists today. And that it could not 
become that group nor organically flow into such a formation.

The reason for that conclusion is that the proof of the pudding is in 
the eating. Coming out of our previous convention in the summer of 2011, 
Solidarity proved incapable of orienting to the Occupy Wall Street upsurge.

AFAIK, Solidarity, like pretty much all of the previously-existing 
socialist groups, did not even gain a SINGLE new member from a social 
and political phenomenon that drew new people into explicitly 
anti-capitalist protests by the tens of thousands, including many 
thousands who were willing to be arrested for the cause.

And in the specific case of the Atlanta metropolitan area, it blew up 
the local Solidarity branch sky high, not just its formal members but a 
periphery of a couple of dozen people. We wound up having totally 
divergent strategic and tactical visions of the Occupy movement.

Suffice it to say that it was a very close Solidarity sympathizer and a 
then-alternate member of our NC who succeeded in preventing Congressman 
John Lewis, former chair of SNCC and as such the now sole surviving 
member of the "big six" civil rights leaders of the early 1960s from 
speaking for a minute or two to the first big OWS "General Assembly" in 
Atlanta to give this movement his endorsement. Even though it was a 
former Solidarity member, and now a very successful organizer for the 
Teamsters, who got John Lewis (who just happened to be there after 
taking part in a different event) to offer to say a few words to the 
General Assembly, since earlier in the day his office had sent out a 
press release hailing the Occupy movement.

For my part, a member of Soli's NC at the time, the only thing that kept 
me from leaving in disgust (as many if not most Black folks did) is that 
I had to wait for my 17-year-old son to show up, as we had agreed to 
meet at the event.

Were one to search for an illustration of the term "utterly and 
completely useless," I'd be hard pressed to come up with a better 
example than the role of people in and around Solidarity at that event, 
where a mostly-white "General Assembly" in a mostly Black city generally 
considered the capital of Black America told the area's most prestigious 
and respected Black elected official, one who had been overwhelmingly 
re-elected to Congress a dozen times, give or take,  to take his support 
for the movement and shove it.

The role of Soli-linked folks in the event isn't surprising, since in 
Atlanta, in the post 9-11 period, Soli folks have been central or 
prominent, leading figures in various movements here, including union 
organizing, antiwar, Palestine solidarity, immigrant rights and student 
anti-cutbacks agitation. No other socialist organization comes close to 
this record.

I cite this not as mitigation, but to emphasize that as an organization, 

"Clusterfuck" is only a first and very mild approximation to how I'd 
summarize more than  a decade of on-and-off association with Soli here. 
And I don't think this is peculiar to Atlanta, but my gut feeling is 
that it is inherent in the group.

So that was the reason why, leading up to last summer's Solidarity 
convention, I was trying to figure out a way to put into a single 
proposal three related ideas:

- our general "from below" movement-building approach works and we 
should keep it
- our organization building approach totally sucks and we should trash it
- let's stay (loosely) together to make the transition to a new group 
easier (when we find a group)

That's the balance sheet and approach I would have presented to the last 
Solidarity convention, held in Chicago at the end of July last year.

*However, before convention, it became clear to me that a group of 
younger comrades were organizing to push the organization in some sort 
of new direction. I decided to defer to their efforts to replace the 
group's bankrupt existing leadership (which I had been a part of). At 
the convention, I did my damndest to get comrades from my generation to 
accept responsibility for our failures by declining nomination to the 
incoming NC.

This effort to change Solidarity's leadership was successful.

Some of the comrades who had played the most visible roles in this 
change had long been identified with a proposal to update the 
organization's 12-point "basis of political agreement" and this became a 
priority for the incoming leadership.

The form this took was peculiar. The convention approved with no real 
discussion (either there or in preconvention discussion) 10 (I think it 
was 10) one sentence points of political agreement, but not the 
paragraphs below each point fleshing them out. The proposal from the new 
layer of leading comrades was to have a referendum on the detailed text.

Because I had informally expressed my discomfort,  comrades in  the new 
leadership encouraged me, and in reality cajoled and pressured me, to 
propose changes to the text and/or express the reasons for my disquiet 
in a more systematic way. (BTW,  this has ALWAYS been my experience in 
Solidarity: dissent is welcomed and respected.)

I was reluctant but after the convention, as the weeks went by with, if 
anything, even less coherence in Solidarity's functioning, I finally 
felt that I had a duty to begin drafting what is below. I can't really 
say exactly how or why the "workerism" or "class reductionism" I point 
to below is leading to Solidarity's disintegration, but in my gut I 
believe that is the case.

I've tried to post this several times to the main Solidarity list, our 
"online discussion bulletin,"  beginning a couple of days before 
Thanksgiving and the original deadline for voting on the "points of 
unity" referendum. I tried again in early December, then right before 
the extended referendum deadline in the third week of December, and just 
a couple of days ago. It never did get sent out.

I am posting it here not to get around "censorship" by Solidarity's 
leadership in any intentional political sense, but as an illustration of 
the reality that the group is no longer functioning as a viable 
political organization, because there is a point when dysfunction 
becomes as bad or worse than censorship, and I think we passed it a 
month or two ago.

[A technical note: for whatever reasons, which I don't pretend to 
understand, my good friend and comrade Louis never allowed anything but 
plain text on this list, so my formatting of what is above and below, 
including italics, bold and

     block quotes

may very well be lost unless this policy has changed. I will send a copy 
of this post as I originally formatted it to anyone that asks for it.]

*  *  *

[Last revised towards the end of November.]

What is below is the result of many weeks of thinking, reading, writing 
and rewriting. It is not a clear and comprehensive exposition of what I 
think about the interrelated subjects that I touch on. Very often, the 
way I think through what I feel about some question or a series of 
questions is by writing. But in this case, I'm not finished, and have 
decided I'm not going to finish, not just because time is running out, 
but because I don't think I am in a place where I should try to speak 
with more force and conviction about certain subjects.

That's the feeling kept me from finishing this draft.

So I am not going to further refine this document, not because I've run 
out of ideas on what to add or how to modify what is below, but not just 
because I've run out of time, or that I don't think most folks in Soli care.

I'm not sure how --or even whether-- I am going to vote on the referendum.

In terms of the actual political positions in it or that flow from it, I 
have no problems.

But that is just the tip of the iceberg, and I suspect that what is 
underneath is what is sinking Solidarity.

And, YES, I remain of the opinion that Solidarity is sinking. And, from 
my point of view, our response has mostly been rearranging the deck 
chairs while the band plays on.

To explain:

Implicit 'workerist' assumptions

As I perceive it, a central theoretical underpinning of this document as 
it is now fleshed out with the commentary is that capitalism is 
quintessentially a system based on the exploitation of the working class.

I do not believe that, and have not for many years, even though long ago 
I tired of making the argument.

Capitalism is based on three fundamental axis of oppression and 
exploitation: class, gender, and nationality (understanding them 
broadly, in the latter case, for example, to encompass tribe, ethnicity, 
race, geography, community, caste, indigenous status, etc.).

There is also an axis of "exploitation" that lies seemingly beyond and 
outside the social sphere, and that is of natural resources and nature 
itself. I do  not take it up here further because I've not figured out 
how to do so, even though my gut tells me it belongs in a "big picture" 
sort of analysis, like what I am trying to write.

In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels discount gender and 
nationality, over-generalizing from the initial English and Western 
European experience of the industrial revolution and its immediate 

     Abolition of the family! Even the most radical flare up at this 
infamous proposal of the Communists....

     The bourgeois clap-trap about the family and education, about the 
hallowed co-relation of parents and child, becomes all the more 
disgusting, the more, by the action of Modern Industry, all the family 
ties among the proletarians are torn asunder, and their children 
transformed into simple articles of commerce and instruments of labour....

     *  *  *

     The working men have no country. We cannot take from them what they 
have not got. Since the proletariat must first of all acquire political 
supremacy, must rise to be the leading class of the nation, must 
constitute itself the nation, it is so far, itself national, though not 
in the bourgeois sense of the word.

     National differences and antagonism between peoples are daily more 
and more vanishing, owing to the development of the bourgeoisie, to 
freedom of commerce, to the world market, to uniformity in the mode of 
production and in the conditions of life corresponding thereto. [The 
Communist Manifesto, Chapter II: Communists and Proletarians. Emphasis 

Read it again, especially the italicized parts, and understand that Marx 
and Engels felt compelled to take this up and also that their statements 
are categorical, unambiguous, and not really susceptible to any 
interpretation save the literal one.

Marx and Engels don't argue in the Manifesto that nothing else had ever 
mattered but rather that the development of capitalism was simplifying 
matters by making these other historical axis of exploitation and 
oppression irrelevant. But in their view, it hadn't always been so.

Primitive Accumulation

In Capital, Marx explains that what we call "national" exploitation, 
especially of indigenous peoples, and not the "class" exploitation of 
modern proletarians, had played the central role in so-called "Primitive 
Accumulation" ("primitive" meaning original or initial, not backward or 
rudimentary) and the emergence of industrial capitalism:

     The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, 
enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the 
beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of 
Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, 
signalised the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These 
idyllic proceedings are the chief momenta of primitive accumulation. On 
their heels treads the commercial war of the European nations, with the 
globe for a theatre. It begins with the revolt of the Netherlands from 
Spain, assumes giant dimensions in England’s Anti-Jacobin War, and is 
still going on in the opium wars against China, &c.  [Capital, Ch. 31, 
Genesis of the Industrial Capitalist.]

Marx and Engels were convinced that capitalist development would reduce 
everything to the common denominator of class. The distinction between 
oppressor nations and their victims would disappear, as  backward 
countries were dragged into the world market and modernized. So just 
after writing the Manifesto with Marx, Engels wrote a year-in-review 
article about 1847 in which he hailed the United States stealing of half 
of Mexico's territory:

     In America we have witnessed the conquest of Mexico and have 
rejoiced at it. It is also an advance when a country which has hitherto 
been exclusively wrapped up in its own affairs, perpetually rent with 
civil wars, and completely hindered in its development, a country whose 
best prospect had been to become industrially subject to Britain — when 
such a country is forcibly drawn into the historical process. It is to 
the interest of its own development that Mexico will in future be placed 
under the tutelage of the United States. [Engels, the Movements of 1847. 
Emphasis added.]

Of course, Marx and Engels later came to understand that this war was 
mostly about trying to increase the number of slave states, and took a 
different attitude. But we should understand WHY they took the position 
they did initially.

The decline of 'classic' colonialism

At that time (mid-1800s), the sort of colonialism that had been central 
to the initial creation of large masses of capital seemed to be a dying 
phenomenon, so it was completely discounted by Marx and Engels. That was 
not an irrational view. Virtually all of the Americas had shaken off the 
colonial shackles (in Latin American and the Caribbean this was to a 
large degree a byproduct of the bourgeois Great French Revolution). What 
remained was tiny (relative to the past). The then existing European 
colonies in the rest of the world were based on or extensions of trading 
ports, and did not encompass huge inland territories.

Given the development of the steamship and its industrial monopoly, 
Britain steadily expanded its world presence throughout the 1800s, 
until, with the increased weight of industrial capitalists in the more 
cohered capitalist nations of the late 1800s, there is an explosion  of 
direct colonization that  by 1895, pretty much had the entire world 
divvied up. If you want to see the evolution in a quick slide show, look 
at these four maps:  1800, 1822, 1885, 1898.

The one thing to remember that isn't reflected in the maps is the 
development of the neo-colonial mode of penetration and domination, 
especially in Latin America, so although the map seems to reflect little 
or no change in this hemisphere, that was not true. After the U.S. Civil 
War, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean increasingly came under 
complete U.S. domination, while sub-equatorial South America became a 
field of contention between Germany, the UK and the U.S.

My point is that Marx and Engels viewed the reduction in colonialism as 
a long-lasting tendency based on the idea that "The country that is more 
developed industrially only shows, to the less developed, the image of 
its own future." [Preface to the First German Edition of Capital]

What really happened after Marx's death and at the very end of Engels's 
life was an explosion of colonialism in a variety of forms as soon as 
industrial capitalism had got itself together in places like France, 
Germany, Italy and the United States. That tells me THIS is the real 
nature of the system: it's not just all about class.

As for gender, the footnote Engels added at the beginning of the 
manifesto, pointing to The Origin of the Family, Private Property and 
the State, which outlines how the defeat of the matriarchy and the 
subjugation of women is the origin of ALL exploitation and hierarchical 
oppression, is enough for me. And quite contrary to the Manifesto's 
prognosis that "all the family ties among the proletarians are torn 
asunder," the family remains a fundamental unit --if not the fundamental 
unit-- of human societies.

Prioritizing class over gender and race/nationality

Why am I arguing at such a high level of abstraction and generalization?

Look at, for example, our first point of unity's explanation:

     The present system produces poverty, war, environmental crises, and 
social disorder for the many and fantastic wealth and power for a tiny 
ruling class.  Through its exploitation of labor and endless drive 
toward greater profit, capitalism pits workers around the world into 
cut-throat competition, reinforces social oppression, and denies us real 
freedom.  Unemployment, regular economic crises, and ecologically 
unsustainable growth are inevitable under the irrational capitalist 
system.  While we fight for reforms that alleviate these miserable 
conditions in order to improve the confidence and organization of the 
working class, we understand that no reform of the system can 
permanently abolish these conditions. Therefore, we fight for the 
abolition of the capitalist system.

Why do we highlight that capitalism "pits workers around the world into 
cut-throat competition." This is not right. There is not a single 
unified world market for labor. Moreover, when you think about it, the 
main  problem working people in the third world face in relation to the 
workers in the United States is that the latter support American 

American workers build, fuel, arm and pilot imperialist drones in 
carrying out targeted assassinations. They make up imperialism's 
occupation forces and global goon squads. Domestically, American workers 
make up the 1.1 million cops and other employees of state and local 
police agencies, and the estimated 2 million plus rent-a-pigs who work 
for security companies or corporations.

Why do we say that we want to improve "the confidence and organization 
of the working class" ignoring these and many other issues?  Just who is 
this "working class" abstracted from time, space and circumstance? 
Referring to its "confidence and organization" suggests this "working 
class" is some sort of conscious social force, a cohered self-and-other 
identified protagonist.

I don't mean to be rude, but if so, just what has it done for me lately? 
Or for poor families having their food stamps cut? Or for the unemployed 
denied benefits? Or for immigrant children whose parents are shanghaied 
by the "fellow workers" of the immigration gestapo. Or for women who are 
the targets of rape here or rape and acid attacks elsewhere? Or for the 
victims of drone strikes in the Muslim world?

What do we expect people will think when they read a statement like 
that, about strengthening the "confidence and organization" of a 
collective social protagonist that has been absent from the U.S. 
political scene longer than any member of Solidarity has been active in 

Why don't we highlight instead the people who have been organizing, 
fighting and dying to rescue their countries from our imperialism, or 
the domestic manifestation of the same phenomenon, people who have been 
struggling against the inferior caste status and accompanying 
super-exploitation of their race/ethnicity/nationality?

Centrality of 'organized labor'?

Or look at point five: "We see organized labor as a central part of the 
working class movement; within it we organize for greater solidarity, 
internationalism, democracy, and militancy."

Dudes, just WHAT have you been smoking? Never mind how you've seen 
organized labor's role in it, where is this working class movement 
you're talking about? The truth is that there has been no working class 
movement worthy of the name in the United States for far longer than 
Solidarity has been in existence. And as for current "organized labor" 
playing a "central role" should a real class movement emerge, I find 
myself unable to embrace such confidence. I would bet instead that new 
forms will emerge that will go against, around or beyond the old unions.

"Organized labor" drank the kool-aid of entrenching privileges for some. 
Worse it did so by throwing the most oppressed and exploited layers of 
the working class under the bus many decades ago. It acquiesced to the 
Taft-Hartley Act denying the right to unionize to domestic employees, 
farm workers, and pretty much all workers in the South and Southwest 
(through state "right to work" laws), in exchange for the union shop in 
the east and west coasts and the Midwest. That was only one of many 
betrayals, of course: another one was abandoning the fight for national 
health insurance and opting instead for employer plans, abandoning an 
improved social security retirement pension and opting instead for 
pensions from individual employers.

It was all quite "rational" -- looking out for number one. But with that 
attitude, you can't be part of a class movement.

The common thread is that "organized labor" chose privilege rather than 
solidarity. They chose union "brothers" rather than "the class." That's 
a big part of the reason why there is no class movement in this country, 
and every day there is less and less of a union movement.

This change in the unions coincided with a change in the social status 
of the sorts of people who were disproportionately present in the unions 
decades ago, when industrial unions were established: white immigrants 
and their children, white ethnics. Around the time of WWII and 
especially in its aftermath they became fully "white." When I was a kid 
in the 60's, I remember that there was a lot of talk about how all the 
big shots were WASPs --White Anglo-Saxon Protestants-- and Kennedy's 
election as an Irish President was viewed as a very big deal. No one 
talks about WASPs any more.

There was a huge change also in their economic situation, with a 
prolonged quarter-century boom from 1945  to 1970 that created the now 
much bemoaned "American  middle class."

The underlying "class-and-only class is fundamental" approach means that 
great stress is placed on the role of unions, "as a central part of the 
working class movement."

Immigration, colonialism and the U.S. working class

Why don't we highlight INSTEAD the role of immigrant organizations in 
the working class movement? In reality, to a very large degree, that's 
what union were originally, because that was the character of the 
American proletariat. This was the analysis presented by Louis Fraina 
(an Italian immigrant that James P. Cannon described as "the single 
person most responsible for the founding of the American Communist 
Party") to the Second Congress of the Comintern in the summer of 1920:

     Fraina: The last speaker [John Reed, author of "Ten Days that Shook 
the World"] talked about the Negroes as an oppressed people in the 
United States. We have at the same time two other kinds of oppressed 
people: the foreign workers and the colonial inhabitants. The terrible 
suppression of strikes and of the revolutionary movement in general is 
in no way a result of the war, it is much more a more forceful political 
expression of the earlier attitude towards the unorganised and unskilled 
workers. These workers’ strikes are suppressed violently. Why? Because 
these workers are in the main foreigners (they form 60 per cent of the 
industrial proletariat), who are in fact in the same position as a 
colonial population. After the Civil War (1861-1865) capitalism 
developed at a great pace. The West, which had been underdeveloped until 
then, was opened up by the construction of the overland railways. The 
investment capital for this development came from Europe and the Eastern 
states. The immigrants however were the human raw material who were 
developed by imperialist violence in exactly the same way as the 
inhabitants of backward colonial countries. The concentration and 
monopolisation of industry, all these typical preconditions of internal 
imperialism, grew up before the United States could develop its foreign 
imperialism. The terror that the colonial population had to face was no 
different from the terror that workers had to face who migrated to the 
United States. Thus in 1912 the coal miners in Ludlow went on strike. 
The miners were driven out of their homes with the help of soldiers and 
quartered in huts. One day, while the men were fighting the army some 
miles away, a troop of soldiers surrounded the huts and set light to 
them, and hundreds of women and children perished in the flames. Under 
these conditions the class struggle in the United States often becomes a 
racial struggle. And just as a Negro revolt can be the signal for a 
bourgeois counter-revolution, and does not represent a proletarian 
revolution, so too the same thing can happen in a revolt of the 
immigrant workers. The great task is to unite these movements among the 
Americans into a revolutionary movement.

     The whole of Latin America must be regarded as a colony of the 
United States, and not only its present colonies such as the Philippines 
etc. Central America is under the complete control of the United States 
through her forces of occupation. The same control is however also 
exercised in Mexico and South America, where it has a two-fold 
expression: first of all through economic and financial penetration, 
which has increased since the expropriation of German business in these 
countries, and secondly through the application of the Monroe Doctrine, 
[Proclaimed in 1823 by President Monroe, the Doctrine pledged opposition 
to colonisation of the Americas by European powers. Used in late 19th 
and 20th centuries to establish US imperialist domination over Central 
and Southern America.] which has changed from being originally the 
defence of America against the monarchist system into being the tool of 
the hegemony and the strengthening of United States imperialism over 
Latin America. A year before the war President Wilson interpreted the 
Monroe Doctrine in such a way that it became a way for the American 
government to prevent British capitalists from obtaining new sources of 
oil in Mexico. In other words – Latin America is the colonial basis of 
imperialism in the United States. While the economic circumstances of 
the countries of the rest of the world become shakier and shakier, 
United States imperialism strengthens its position by throwing itself 
into the exploitation and development of Latin America. It is absolutely 
necessary to fight against this imperialism by starting revolutionary 
movements in Latin America, just as it is necessary to proceed against 
British imperialism by setting up revolutionary movements in its 
colonies. [Minutes of the Second Congress of the Communist 
International, Chapter  4. Emphasis added.]

In that light, consider a statement like that in point 6: "the 
historical and structural connections between capitalism and white 
supremacy, the social disease of racism cannot be eradicated under 
capitalism...". Would we talk about "the historical and structural 
connections between capitalism and class exploitation" in this way? Of 
course not, because in the conventional Marxist vision, capitalism IS 
class exploitation, that is what defines this system.

But if the "historical and structural connections" are so intimate that 
they cannot be eradicated under capitalism, why are they "connections" 
at all? Shouldn't we say instead that they are inherent and essential to 
this system, an integral part of it?

My contention is that this one-dimensional view of capitalism is wrong. 
Patriarchy and the exploitation based on territorial/ethnic factors that 
manifest as "white supremacy" in the United States are just as central 
to capitalism as class exploitation is.

The mistakes Marx and Engels made in the direction of class reductionism 
may be understandable, given how industrial capital emerged and the 
narrow perch afforded by the information they had available. But 
absolute truths are the realm of religion, not science. We should 
understand truth as a dialectical process of successive approximations. 
And to deny that the further development of capitalism is different from 
what they projected is to transform Marx and Engels into religious prophets.

What does this all mean?

OK, so I reject the theoretical and analytical framework that I believe 
underlies the way the explanatory material is presented. What does that 

I guess to some people it will mean I should not be a member of 
Solidarity, and if a significant layer of people feel that way, I will 
make it so.

But in reality, apart from one or another specific sentence, like about 
the future central role of the labor movement,  I don't disagree with 
the thrust of any of the individual points. And as for the labor 
movement point, I suspect  most comrades would agree that the labor 
movement of the future that is a class movement, will have to be a very 
different movement from this one: transformed, reborn or replaced, just 
like the CIO of the 1930s was to the AFL.

But leaving that  aside, I do not think a differently-worded "Basis of 
political agreement" that subtly incorporates as an underlying but 
unstated framework  my understanding of the system would be better.

The "Basis of Political Agreement" that this document takes as its model 
is the original Solidarity one from the mid-1980s.

But that document expressed a reality, it did not create it. That 
reality was the convergence of currents that came out of the 
radicalization of the 1960s, opposed Stalinism, had intersected with the 
Trotskyist tradition. And, in addition, they were all committed to 
greatly privileging "the labor work," whose only real practical 
on-the-ground, dollars and cents value (people easily offended will want 
to stop reading before they get to the next phrase) turned out to be to 
attract to the organization people from college campuses, i.e., members 
of the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia.

That doesn't bother me at all because the more young rebels we attract 
the better. And I have no objection, none whatsoever, to comrades with 
an overwhelming focus on the unions continuing their work, just as I 
know that they have never had qualms about my focus on the immigrant 
rights movement. Unlike the latter-day "Leninists" (poor Lenin!) I do 
not believe a revolutionary socialist  political organization should be 
like the Borg.

A true "scientific" approach to politics is not for everyone to follow 
exactly the same tactic. When there is a new medicine for a condition, 
the test is never handing out the medicine by itself, but comparing its 
effect to that of the old medicine, or to a placebo.

And in that spirit, I don't believe we have ever faced up to the other 
side of our student youth recruitment thanks to the labor work, which is 
that we've never recruited anyone out of the traditional proletariat 
from unions like the UAW, Teamsters, etc.

Instead, "the labor work" recruited out of Solidarity tons of people who 
then remained active in their unions as well as broader social and 
political causes -- but often not quite in the way we would have hoped.

There's no sense crying over milk spilt under a bridge we should have 
burned a long time ago, so I will leave that there.

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 salvation.]

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) 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 
(Radio Free Georgia), 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.


More information about the Marxism mailing list