I’m about to celebrate 50 years in the progressive movement.
When I began, we still had Ku Klux Klan trying to attack our activities. We had federal agents around all the time. Some of our own people were the most dangerous of all.
Lookout! Times are Changing!
We are entering upon times unlike those with which we have had experience. We’re about to inaugurate the most anti-worker, pro-corporation government of our lifetimes. It is likely that democracy is their enemy and violence a close friend.
The progressive movement needs to think our actions through. We can’t just throw together a mob on the street and call it a picket line. We need trained marshals with clear marking, we need legal (ACLU) observers, we need written rules for our street actions. Above all, we need responsible leadership and careful planning.
We have all studied, or at least seen in movies or TV, when fascists and communists battled in the streets of Germany. Note that the fascists, being better equipped and organized, won. After they took state power, the street fights became executions.
Who Is Out to Ruin the Progressive Movement?
The opposition has a great deal of money and can hire all kinds of agents to oppose the progressive movement. Informants, spies, agents, and provocateurs are cheap for them. They may or may not organize street fighters, because they don’t necessarily need them, but the reactionary interventions of one kind and another are certain.
In my period of activism, agents primarily had two goals: gathering information and looking for ways to discredit groups and activities. I always found that cameras were the best defense against them — they’re deathly afraid of exposure! I once had the pleasure of chasing an agent all over inside a bank that we were picketing. He finally got a local cop to stop my trying to take his picture. We never saw him again.
The other “best defense” for an organization is to do a lot of work. Agents want to be involved in discussions, but they don’t like to work.
It is Insufficient to Fight…
As long as an organization stays on the “peaceful and legal” side, they don’t have to worry as much about agents as they have to worry about some of their own enthusiastic members. “Ultraleft” activists are people who have more courage than brains. They don’t necessarily care about accomplishing anything as long as they put on a great show or have a really wonderful time. Some of them are agents seeking to discredit a group, but most of them are just idiots.
I quote Trotsky at them, “It is insufficient to fight, Comrades,” Leon Trotsky said, “It is also necessary to win!”
National Leadership Is Needed
I greatly admire all the spontaneous outbursts of local activities since November 8. But the coming storm is a national problem that needs national leadership and coordination. Local groups would be wise to work more on coordination and planning than knee jerk activism.
It’s a little bit embarrassing today to see every group going this way and that, all of them asking everybody else and each other for money, none of them with a plan. We can do better.
It seems to me that everybody is going every whichaway. While I consider that a whole lot better than periods when nobody does anything, it’s also kind of a mess and a little bit perilous. I would have a liked it a lot better if national AFL-CIO had come out with some guidelines — but so far they haven’t. I’m giving them more time, because unions work slowly.
One thing I’m hoping is that the Jan 16 MLK events will tend to shake out the leadership tangle and give us a better idea of how to create a responsible movement. Meantime, I intend to encourage activism — but I also intend to encourage thinking!