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Typically today, “unity of the left” means “everybody must follow me!”

jigsaw

But a lot of activists would sincerely like to see honest unification and are frustrated when unsuccessful. The truth is that the so-called “left” is not united for terrible reasons such as personal egotism, but also for a more solid reason: we operate under different theories.

The “Do Good” Theory

If you are nice to other people, they will be nice to you. This will spread and, before too long, everybody will be nice to everybody else and we’ll have a nice world.

The first socialists, usually held to be affluent Frenchmen, were do good thinkers and theorists. They projected that we need societies that are operated for the benefit of the people within those societies. We should expand the democracy we have into a complete and total democracy where everyone has an equal chance at happiness.

In a world run, at that time, by cruel aristocrats, these early socialists made a wonderful and worthwhile contribution, but they didn’t put a whole lot of thinking into how their vision could become reality.

Liberals

To be good, one should oppose the current system and the bad people who run it.

Was it the chicken or the egg that came first, or did they evolve together? As those who ruled societies began to develop a theoretical justification for their pillage, others reacted by developing their own organizations and ideas. Today we think of the two sides as “conservatives” who want to conserve the policies of the past and “liberals” who have a vague idea of some kind of forward motion in society.

Both terms are distorted beyond recognition today, especially because the same person or group may be “liberal” on some issues and “conservative” on others.  The terms weren’t very clear to begin with. The worst example of semantic confusion today is probably the term “neo-liberal” which means someone who supports imperialism in foreign affairs because they want “liberal” foreign policies that won’t restrict transnational corporations. The worst “conservatives” on domestic policies are “neo-liberals” on foreign affairs!

Worse, it’s probably true that no one person fits neatly into any of the categories of this essay. We may be able to separate ideas to an extent, but people are always changing and don’t willingly shoehorn.

The Progressive peoples outside the United States hate neo-liberals. They probably aren’t too crazy about ordinary American liberals either, because their good intentions don’t usually extend outside their own immediate sphere.

Liberals don’t really operate from a strong theoretical base, which is why they are sometimes called “knee-jerk liberals.” But they are generally on the side of progress.

Social Democrats

Good people should organize together in opposition to bad people

Liberals tend to resist organizing. “Organizing liberals is like herding cats,” one great liberal commentator used to say. But the more serious ones recognize the struggle for power and organize. Many of them become social democrats.  The first socialist political parties called themselves social democrats. That was true of the one in America and the one in Russia. They organized to combat the status quo.

Historically, the Americans and the Russians had a lot in common before 1917. They were the only socialist parties in the world, among the many, that did not support their own capitalists during World War I. The split came later.

The social democrats were and are the largest groups of organized socialist-thinking liberals. In America today, we still have the old Socialist Party, several of its splits and variants including Democratic Socialists of America, and the Bernie Sanders “Our Revolution” movement. Many leading American unionists have been unspoken social democrats. In general, social democrats believe that their consistent political activities will gradually convince everyone to vote them into office and keep them there. Then they will they transform the society that exists into the brave new world.

In Europe, social democrats are indeed elected into power over and over again, but have never been able to stay in power and effect any kind of long-term transformation. American social democrats have seldom tasted significant power, but they have high hopes of transforming the Democratic Party to meet their ends.

Anarchists

We need militant action to destroy the bad people, then the good people will take over

While liberals more or less ignore the theory and organizations of rulers, anarchists think that destroying the other side is prerequisite to building ours. Some of the best labor heroes and heroines in America styled themselves anarchists. Although violence is not necessarily part of their ideology, they tend to be susceptible to it, and it is relatively easy for the reactionaries to paint anarchists with the brush of violence.

Another big problem for the anarchists is their tendency to spend so much time and energy arguing with the social democrats.

I purposely put the anarchists as being more developed than the social democrats because they recognize that enemies must be overcome if progress is to be made. The anarchists may not have been very effective, and aren’t effective today, but they knew that there are two sides to the struggle for progress, just as in any other war.

Nationalists and Other Forms of Identity Politics

The meek, properly organized and motivated, shall inherit the Earth

Capitalists oppress everybody, even each other if they get the chance. The capitalists of the United States, would crush those of China if they could, and vice versa.

But all oppression is not the same. The historic and ongoing oppression of African Americans in America is one striking example, but it doesn’t mean that American women weren’t oppressed, nor does it mean that Latinos, homosexuals, and, yes, white working men aren’t oppressed as well.

All oppressed people, which means all of us, are oppressed in different ways and tend to have different ideologies and organizations trying to represent us. Those organizations and ideologies do not usually try very hard to work together, but some of them do. Malcolm X and Dr Martin Luther King Jr both come to mind as great leaders of a particular national ideology who eventually recognized the need for broader unity. It is not a coincidence that they were both murdered before they went very far with their thinking.

The general idea that the exploited peoples should fight back, while very progressive in itself, has been elevated into a theory of socialists struggle. Certain ideologists and groups believe that the “most exploited,” having the most reason, are the most likely to rise up against capitalism and create a socialist world. It sounds good.

It sounds so good that hundreds, probably thousands, of college-educated activists go into America’s ghettos to recruit, train, and motivate those revolutionaries that they know are there.

Does it sound patronizing? Yes, it is. Will it work? No. One reason it won’t work is that it lacks recognition of the enemy, which even the anarchists knew about. The enemy knows it won’t work and cheerfully provides, through their philanthropy and churches, funding for these patronizing projects. During the 1960s and 1970s, the U.S. government funded its own organizations that worked on this theory. Vista Volunteers was more effective than they intended, and has been toned down. I think they call it Americorps now.

Saul Alinsky and Dorothy Day were the patron saints of identity politics, Several organizations still find plenty of funding and continue today.

Sindicalists

Organize all workers, and boss rule shall wither

While I’m oversimplifying everything, I may as well over-simplify sindicalism. Wikipedia has a really good essay on it. They say that it’s both a system to overcome capitalism and an economic system to run things afterward.

The Industrial Workers of the World always denied being sindicalists. They denied being anarchists. They denied being anarcho-sindicalists. But they are usually put forward as the best American example of all three.

Sindicalists, including some very good trade union leaders, believe that the entire working class can be organized by their workplaces and categories of work. Once that is done, a general strike can be called and the bosses will capitulate. Political work, especially elections, are confusing and not important. Elections are particularly to be avoided because they tend to cause workers to collaborate with non-workers and even with bosses.

After the bosses are brushed aside, according to the sindicalists, workers will already be organized to operate the economy for the good of all.

Communists

Workers Arise!

A lot of sindicalists and a lot of social democrats became communists, especially after the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party demonstrated that it was possible to organize workers politically, form alliances with other progressives, and do away with the capitalists.

Karl Marx and Frederich Engels, German student activists, said that they had to combine the rosy hopes of the French socialists with solid historical analysis and the scientific method to suggest a path to progress. Vladimir Lenin convinced the majority (Russian word: bolshevik) of the Russian socialists to follow that path to victory.

There was jubilation on the workers’ side, but the bosses side was extremely unhappy —  and they had most of the weaponry; consequently the 1917 revolution was contained and its supporters knew great difficulties. Amazingly, Lenin’s revolution endured 70 years and continues to appeal to many thinking activists around the world.

Cadres and Vanguards

All the revolution really needs is us!

The communists committed themselves to the world working class in all arenas of struggle. “The communists have no interests outside of the working class” was their guiding principle.

But some groups saw something different in Lenin’s example. They saw his success as having built a revolutionary, combative political party as key to the win in Russia, rather than his commitment to the ideas of Marx and Engels. To some groups, building a party of deeply committed cadre revolutionary soldiers who could act as an example to less advanced workers was more important than an actual commitment to the working class in all things.

These parties were meant to be the vanguard of all revolutionary struggle. They would set such a good example that other working people would follow them into successful revolutionary action. They tended to avoid electoral politics because it was tainted. Since they were clearly the chosen ones, they tended to argue with everybody else in the progressive movement, and were usually thought of as “splitters.”  I used to be one of them.

Who’s Who Today?

The pressures on the Soviet Union resulted in cracks and fissures throughout the world. The social democrats in America kicked the communists out. The IWW blamed and defamed them. The Trotskyites and the Maoists split them. When the Soviet Union eventually collapsed, individuals and ideologies ran helter-skelter every which-a-way.

Today the old Communist Party USA has largely drifted backward into social democracy. The Maoists are and always were nationalists. The IWW was and is sindicalist and anarchistic. Those who haven’t really thought it out, or don’t want to, are social democrats, liberals and do-goods. Since they split so often, there are too many vanguardist parties to try to name, and more are forming during this wonderful current upsurge.

There are wonderful, well-intentioned, thoughtful people in every category I’ve named. From the softest do-goods to the bitterest vanguard, we belong together.

That’s our “left” today, struggling toward the unity that it must achieve. The key word here is “must.” Progressives in America will unite because, eventually, we will realize collectively that we have to.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON.org 89.3 FM in Dallas every Saturday at 9AM Central Time

I welcome your comments and ideas, in fact I really need them

Germans embraced the Nazis, not because they were tired of freedom, but because they believed they had found a cure for capitalism.

doctorposter-capitalism

From the time it began to take over the world, mid 17th century, until the late 19th century, capitalism provided a better life for its subjects. That is, it was better than serfdom. Serfs were landless farm workers, one step above slaves, who had to take whatever their lords dished out. “Free” labor could leave one employer for another and, to some extent, dicker over conditions of employment.

Capitalism Works Best With Limited Democracy

If workers believe they have a voice in government, they don’t have to be guarded, guided, and pushed to do everything. They don’t run away or deliberately smash the equipment, the way slaves or serfs might. They can be educated for the higher forms of labor that capitalism needs. Consequently, the more successful capitalist economic systems use a limited democracy form of government.

From the beginning of the Republic until after World War II, American struggles made good improvements in our democracy.

What Went Wrong, When Did It Go Wrong?

Capitalism stopped benefiting workers after it conquered the world. When there were no new markets, the capitalists had to turn against one another to fight for the markets they had already saturated. That’s not what they called it. They called it “The war to save democracy,” and “The war to end all wars.”

But WW I was really a bloody turf war between gangsters. For a short period, the winners enjoyed their spoils, but it didn’t last very long because  the basic problem of saturated markets and international competition was still there.

So, they decided to have another world war. This one was complicated for workers, because the Soviet Union, try as they might, couldn’t stay out of it. After they began to fight the invading Nazis, they were incorporated into the same side the United States was on. The U.S. ended the alliance as soon as the Nazis were defeated, of course.

No More World Wars

After the U.S. nuked Japan, actually, after the Soviets and other nations showed that they could do the same thing, world wars lost their appeal as a temporary solution to the capitalist crisis. Even the gangster capitalists weren’t crazy enough to blow up their only planet. So, since the late 1970s, capitalist nations have gotten by on small regional wars, lowering their production costs by attacking their workers, and carrying a whole lot of debt. I recently read, in an investment newsletter, that all growth in the United States since 1980 basically came from debt!

Did the Nazis Solve the Capitalist Crisis?

To Germans between, say, 1933 and 1939, it appeared that fascism was the right way to go. Unemployment dived from 25% into low numbers. Lots of infrastructure was rebuilt. National pride was soaring.

But they had only changed their form of government from limited democracy to fascism, they hadn’t changed their economic system. It was still capitalist and it was still in crisis. The only real way toward a temporary solution was war. Even then, as long as they were winning, fascism still seemed pretty good to the Germans. After that, not so much.

What Looks Good to You Right Now?

To a lot of Americans, the Trump Administration and Republican political domination look pretty good. They think there will be more and better jobs. They think they’ll be making a better living and that the steady abatement of basic democracy isn’t too high a price to pay.

But we are still living in an economic system that has provided all the good it is going to provide, and things are only going to get worse if we can’t save and expand our democracy.

 

trumka-politicalprogram

In all the struggles of American history, all our victories have been temporary. We need a workers’ political program for permanent change. I’d like to see it come from organized labor, and soon. Instead of vaguely advocating for it, I decided to write down what I would consider the elements of a good program.

Goal of the Party

The goal of a workers’ political party is conclusive victory for workers’ rights and democracy. For members to vary from our goal, even for candidates and office holders, is grounds for expulsion.

Activities

Strategies for achieving our goal begin with a careful analysis of each existing situation. For the last few centuries, the overall worldwide situation has been characterized by domination by the propertied people of the industrialized nations. Peace, even between the major nations, is always uneasy because they are economic competitors.

Who Is With Us?

Against all of the owners and employers are the working class of the world and an undetermined and shifting section of the unstable “in between” class of small businesspersons, professionals, and other “go-betweens” who tend to change allegiances according to which of the two main classes is winning. Members of the Party remain scrupulously aware of who are likely to be supporters and who are likely to be enemies of progress.

All of the non-propertied people are oppressed, but not equally; nor do all of the oppressed have the same resources and capabilities; consequently, strategies are tailored for different groups.

Philosophy

Members of the Party have no time nor taste for fantasies, superstitions, fetishes, and vague feelings. Our activities are guided toward understanding each situation and developing tactics for strengthening our side and undermining the other. We are aware that everything is in constant change. We employ a conscious study of history, but do not consider history an overly strict guideline.

Necessity

The current economic system, while far better than its predecessors, no longer benefits the  people. Instead, it threatens the destruction of our planet.

Democracy

The Party practices internal democracy. Democracy is the only governance that works with volunteers, and it is the absolutely necessary precedent for a victorious new order.

Facebook has a number of events calling for a general strike on May 1, 2017.

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I have no idea whether or not it will “succeed,” but it ought to, and, sooner or later, it must!

What Is It?

A general strike, also known as a political strike, is a labor action that is not limited to a single employer. Instead, it takes in a geographic area. The great Seattle general strike shut down Seattle. There was a general strike in Houston 1946, according to the book, “Rainbow at Midnight.” The 1886 strike for the 8-hour day was worldwide.

The idea is to add economic struggle to our usual progressive arsenal of voting, lobbying, and protesting. A general strike asks that we don’t go to work unless our demands are met.

Recently, we saw “A Day Without an Immigrant” and “A Day Without a Woman” show some limited success throughout the United States. It is very hard to assess how many people actually missed work, because they are likely to keep it secret. Also, no clear demands were put forward and it was never clear exactly who was organizing. We do know that a lot of students took the day off and a few small businesses shut down.

In my opinion, both of these operations were worthwhile because, for the first time since 1946, Americans are seriously discussing the idea of nationwide participation in economic struggle. If you read this far, that’s a victory!

What Could Happen?

“A strike is an incipient revolution”

–Big Bill Haywood, head of the Industrial Workers of the World

It is possible to achieve great goals if participation levels are high enough in a political strike. We see successes in Europe from time to time. Brazilians just struck March 17 over cuts in their government pensions. They shut down Sao Paulo!

What Should Happen On May 1, 2017?

“It is not sufficient to fight, comrades, it is also necessary to win!”

–Leon Trotsky, organizer of the Red Army

Pursuing the economic struggle is not only exigent but necessary. Ultimately, the corporations in power have no concern for democracy. They’ve already eroded American democracy considerably and will do their best to destroy it completely. That’s why we have to learn to use economic struggle.

Organizers who want a successful general strike on May 1, 2017, need to come together on demands and strategies. Legislation guaranteeing a national minimum wage of $15/hours would be a good target demand. If Congress should pass such legislation and the President were to sign it into law, the May 1 general strike should be called off. If not, organizers should make certain that employers feel the consequences.

A good strategy would be to organize “flying pickets” on May 1. In advance, sign-making parties could be set up that would help develop and train volunteers. A rendezvous point and some picketing targets could be discussed. On May 1, organizers would gather at the  rendezvous point and send carloads of picketers to selected low-paying enterprises such as fast-food restaurants. The more the better, but even a small turnout at a limited number of targets might have a measurable effect.

What WILL Happen on May 1, 2017?

We’ll see!

Hard is the fortune of all womankind

She’s always controlled

She’s always confined

Controlled by her parents until she’s a wife

A slave to her husband the rest of her life

–The Wagoner’s Lad (Joan Baez)

Why the Patriarchy Succeeded the Matriarchy

During Women’s History Month, it’s good to reflect on the oppression that we are dealing with and how to fight it.

For most of humankind’s existence, matriarchies were more common than patriarchies. Up to 5 or 6,000 years ago, humans were hunter-gatherers. They barely survived and had nothing that that they could keep. Whatever they obtained was consumed right away.

Humans lived in cooperative societies where everyone’s contribution was completely necessary for survival; consequently no one was undervalued. People traced their lineage through their mothers, the only parent of whom they could be certain.

Woman’s Downfall was Cows, Not Apples

womenoppression

At the dawn of civilization, people began to accumulate wealth. Their wealth may have been cattle or agricultural products, but, for the first time, human beings had something that they could keep and pass on to their heirs. That was the downfall of women’s equality.

The men wanted to be sure of their heirs, so they ended women’s rights. Marriage was invented and adultery, for women, became a capital offense. Polygamy thrived and polyandry was rare.

Women were the first oppressed class

–Frederich Engels (Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State)

It Wasn’t Just Women

The men with the wealth didn’t just oppress women. They oppressed everybody they could. They enslaved everyone they could conquer. Slavery became the dominant form of work for centuries. But people, including women, struggled for a better deal. As capitalism became the dominant form of economic production, starting only about 400 years ago, labor became more “free,” and really big gains began to come.

America Was “The Beautiful” for White Propertied Men

In 1776, when the United States began to form, white propertied men of a certain age were the only ones who could vote. Blacks were enslaved and Natives were murdered. Women couldn’t even own property. Millions would die before significant change came about, but change did come.

American democracy peaked toward the end of the 20th century, and has been generally headed the other way since then. Our electoral system is now awash in money. Previous restrictions on racist voter suppression are being put aside. The Equal Rights Amendment is a distant memory, except in Nevada, where it passed in 2017.

How to End Women’s Oppression

Women’s oppression has the same basis as oppression of others — it is the will of the holders of wealth. They have to be removed from power. Women, as one of the more oppressed groups, have a special role in this fight. It is heartening that the biggest demonstrations in American history, weekend of January 20-21, were led by women. It is significant that women called a general strike on International Women’s Day, even though there is no way to evaluate the participation.

I work on organizing people who support the right to retire. I especially prize our women activists because they tend to have the clerical abilities that organizers need, while men who have worked with their hands all their lives tend to have less ability to use modern technology.

I don’t believe that women, acting alone, will overcome the propertied oppressors. It will take virtually everyone. But I don’t think it could be done without women!

There was a union maid,

Who never was afraid

–Woody Guthrie

In our lifetimes, we have never seen the American people as ready to fight as they are right now. Case in point: the January 21st demonstrations put more protesters on the streets than ever in American history.

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Is It Enough?

At the same time that our potential strength is growing, the challenges are growing, too. The far right, the dark money people, the Koch brothers, all of the worst of America’s ruling rich, are far stronger than ever. They were bad enough when they were just the crazies in the John Birch society  the Tea Party and Ku Klux Klan, but now they hold state power!

Does it seem likely that these merciless and unscrupulous power mongers are going to be “touched” by our sentiments? Will they have a “change of heart” after they hear our arguments at Town Hall meetings? Does anyone think they will give up state power just because people carried signs?

What About the Next Elections?

If everything were the way it used to be, or the way it usually is, the Democrats could expect to win big in the 2018 mid-term elections. There is a lot of enthusiasm for fighting the Republicans, thanks to the Republicans. Also, the party in power normally loses in mid-term elections. A lot of our leaders, thinking things are the way they used to be, or the way things usually are, are focusing entirely on the next elections. We’ll warm up in the local elections that occur between now and then, and then we’ll be “really ready” in November, 2018.

American Democracy Is On the Wane

We should fight in the local elections at hand. We should get ready for the 2018 mid-terms. We should continue building giant protests. We shouldn’t concede anything. But is it enough? Even if we think it’s enough, can we be sure?

Consider that the level of democracy that we enjoyed just a few years ago is being eroded away. When Bill Clinton was President, for example, we thought our voting rights were secure. Not only that,  we more or less expected to continue expanding American democracy just as we had more or less consistently since 1776. We’ve seen big money take over our elections with the blessings of the Supreme Court. We’ve seen a President appointed by the same court. We’ve seen the near-sacred Voting Rights Act gutted. We’ve seen unfair redistricting and myriad voter suppression laws become common. Just recently!

Maybe we have enough democracy left to assert ourselves in 2018 and put America back on the path to freedom. I hope so, but I’d like to have something stronger just to make sure.

What Else Is There?

Here in the United States, we know almost nothing about the kinds of economic struggles that are common in other parts of the world. The only truly successful economic boycott we know of was the United Farm Workers’ fight against grape growers. We’ve never seen a successful political strike in our lifetimes. Union organization has almost stopped completely in America due to the combined hostility of bosses and governments.

Those are the things we have to learn if we want to win.

Did You Shift To the Right?

Fascist_OK

The reactionary candidate in the Dutch elections didn’t do as well as predicted. Maybe the fascists won’t win in France, either, but Donald Trump will still be President of the United States and the talking heads of the news will still be saying that there’s a “shift to the right”

They don’t say that somebody else shifted to the right, they say that the electorate did. We’re the electorate, so they mean us. Did you shift to the right? I doubt it.

In fact, a “shift to the right” by the electorate is not what is happening at all. If the electorate were becoming more reactionary, we wouldn’t have seen the liberal election results on marijuana and minimum wage. What we’re seeing is something else.

What Are We Seeing?

We are seeing a shift in tactics by the rich.

Throughout written history, the more-or-less propertyless have fought against the propertied for basic sustenance, for rights, and for freedom. We have done pretty well for ourselves, especially under capitalism. Once workers freed themselves from slavery and serfdom, we went on to get better living conditions, a little bit of dignity for workers, and limited democracy.

Limited Democracy?

We’ve always fought for more democracy, more control over our lives, and in generally we’ve been winning. Winning at least until lately. American workers did particularly well during the golden days from the end of World War II to the late 1970s. That’s when American industry completely dominated the world. We got rid of all-white primaries, poll taxes, English-only ballots, fake literacy tests for Black voters, prohibitions on voting for 18-year-olds, and we made other great accomplishments during that period. But our democracy was always limited.

We never won the right to vote on wars, on plant closures, on layoffs, on hiring policies, and lots of other things that are exclusively done by the propertied class. Only recently, most of us realized that we’ve never had the right to vote on Federal Reserve officers. So our democracy has grown, but it was always limited.

After 1982, when the government started coming down on our right to unionize, our democracy began to erode. When the Supreme Court opened our election process to unlimited financial intervention, when they gutted the Voting Rights Act, and when unfair redistricting and voter suppression laws became common, we began to realize that the long-term trend toward more democracy was being reversed.

Why The Reverse in Democracy?

Around 1980, the propertied class changed their tactics. Instead of kidding us along with limited democracy, they decided on an all-out war against our rights. What changed for them was international competition. The United States no longer had the only functioning factories in the world and had to compete with countries who could make better products cheaper. The squeeze was on.

One can validate this with any account of inequality. From 1945 to the late 1970s, American workers constantly improved our lot. After that, it’s been downhill economically. One good book about it is “Runaway Inequality” by Les Leopold. Leopold shows what happened, but he is a little skimpy on “why” and “what the heck do we do about it?”

The owning class changed their tactics, and we have to fight them! That’s the why and what.