[Marxism] Critique of Solidarity in one piece
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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) 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
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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