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

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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

A lot of Republicans in the Texas Legislature and the editors of the Dallas Morning News have teamed up to oppose “straight party ticket” voting.

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By now, everybody in the United States, and especially the Texans, should begin to worry when Republicans talk about “electoral reform.” They’ve already deformed our elections beyond recognition with crazy redistricting, outright voter suppression, and opening the floodgates for big money to buy every candidate.

Now they want Texas to join the states that have already outlawed “straight ticket” voting. I laughed out loud when I read the Dallas editors’ reasons. The main one was that the change wouldn’t make any difference because people could still vote straight ticket, they would just have to put a bunch more marks by each candidate on the ballot.

If it doesn’t make any difference, why do it?

And, anybody could turn the argument right around on the editors. If it’s true that people could still vote straight ticket AFTER this “deform,” then isn’t it also true that they could NOT vote straight ticket NOW? They aren’t offering to give people another choice, they’re offering to take one away!

Straight Ticket Voting Makes Sense

I’m not sure what it’s like in other states, but in Texas we have to elect almost everybody that has anything to do with government, from dogcatcher through all the judges and on up (or down, as the case may be) to the Governor and President. Nobody can keep track of all these candidates — then they throw in a bunch of undecipherable propositions and amendments at the end of the ballot. A person is supposed to have all this clear in his/her head before we enter the voting booth, but everybody knows we can’t.

Party Polarity Is On the Grow

The growing polarity between the two capitalist parties makes them more distinct than ever before. When I was a kid, I used to hear people say that they couldn’t tell the difference between the two capitalist parties. Nobody says that now.

For working families, the Democrats’ party platforms sound like Hollywood dreams, and the Republican party platforms come straight from the hallways of Hell.

Like the “local control” issue, the “straight ticket” issue is a smoke screen to hide the intentions of big money as they rob the workers and deform our democracy in order to undermine our ability to fight back.

–Gene Lantz

Find me Saturdays at 9 Central Time at http://knon.org

The New York Times published a long liberal’s lament on the situation in France:

SundayReview | OP-ED COLUMNIST

France in the End of Days

Marine Le Pen’s road to victory is clear enough.
Can a pragmatist stop the extreme right?

I recently wrote down a decent political program, but how could it be implemented?

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The Trick Is to Know What You Want

If a political program is to be implemented, its supporters have to be clear on it and keep it fresh in mind. That’s why the one I wrote is so brief.

Everyone has a certain amount of resources and a certain number of opportunities. Nearly all of us are short of money and time, but we usually have some of one or the other. But we have to pick and choose, carefully, which opportunities we will pursue with our limited resources. Some of them move us closer to the ultimate goal of the political program, and others not so much.

All Strategies and Tactics are Good

The catch is that strategies and tactics are only good in their proper place and time. A mass rally might be the best thing for a May Day activity, or a general strike might be. A letter writing campaign might be good in some situations, but probably not for May Day. It’s all good, but only when it fits the situation!

Can You Trust the Leadership?

Nowadays, new “leaders” are under every rock in the garden. We’re being pulled every whichaway by this or that organization or cause. As I explained in another blog, I tend to follow the AFL-CIO organized labor federation because, whether they are right or wrong, they are always working class and a united working class is the only long-term solution. Also, I’ve been working with these guys for a long long time, so I know their abilities, their intentions, and their shortcomings.

Whose Ax? Whose Ox?

Nearly all organizations and all their activities have short term goals. Some of those short-term goals advance a decent long term political program, but not all of them, and some always more than others. What they do depends on whose ax is being ground, and whose ox has been gored. Even some of our greatest leaders have to be viewed with a certain skepticism.

Take Bernie Sanders, for example. Senator Sanders is probably the most widely respected progressive leader in the United states today, and one would have to go back several years to find someone as deserving of respect. His book from September 2016, which I reviewed, has a wonderful list of things that need to be accomplished. And yet, they consist in their entirety of reforms which, if won, could still be taken away in another period.

None of Our Gains, So Far, Have Been Permanent

There are not and will not be any permanent gains for working people as long as our bosses run the system. Everything we can win — civil rights, voting rights, pay raises — can be taken away by the bosses, and will be taken away whenever they get the chance!

Even the finest organizations such as NAACP and Children’s Defense Fund have limited, temporary, goals. Not that activists shouldn’t support them, but we should support them with the realization that they will only take us a limited distance toward our ultimate goal.

Who and What Shall We Shun?

Are there arenas of political activity that we should avoid? Lots of “radicals” don’t believe in elections. Lots of liberals don’t believe in street actions. Hardly anybody in America believes in general strikes because we don’t know beans about them. Some unionists are always wanting to strike, others are always wanting to cozy up to the bosses. Some people make a fetish of civil disobedience, other people wouldn’t go near it. Some would say that only economics matters, while others would say that art and culture are the only way to make a difference. All of them are wrong.

As I said above, all strategies and tactics are good in the right place and time. The same goes for arenas of struggle. People who eschew elections are non-thinking zealots. People who will never support a strike action are probably cowards or sell-outs. Or, at least, we should admit that, even if we’re not zealous, venal or cowardly, we’re all ignorant.

The test of any opportunity is “How far does it take us toward our ultimate  programmatic goal?

There are no blueprints. We may study previous situations and their heroes until our eyes pop out, and we still won’t know exactly what to do in the next situation. But, if we apply ourselves consciously, study, collaborate with people we respect, stay active and keep our programmatic yardstick handy, we can refine our ability to choose.

That’s an organization plan.

 

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Arianna Huffington, How to Overthrow the Government. Regan Books, New York, 2000

The great columnist eviscerates American politics during the 1999 elections. If one substituted Donald Trump for Pat Buchanan and multiplied all the horrible social statistics by, maybe, ten, you’d come up with the same book that Bernie Sanders wrote in 2016. America has gone to hell because of greedy corporations, unscrupulous politicians, cynical journalists, and for heavens sake why doesn’t everybody vote!

It’s all true, and the fact that Ms Huffington saw it so clearly so far before the 2016 disaster adds even more to her credibility. There’s greatness there!

Donald J Trump, the present president, is in her book because he was active in the 1999 campaign, but he’s all just a joke to her. She said his pronouncements should have had a laugh track (pg 193). Little did we know, in 1999, how much worse things would get by 2017!

However, we would have known if we had read Arianna Huffington’s book then.

So then, How?

Just as I read Bernie Sanders book that was finished in September 2016, I was mostly looking for solutions. Hers and his are about the same: electoral reform and for heavens sake why doesn’t everybody vote! Huffington, unlike Sanders, adds a big dollop of personal charity to her solution. She wants us to join meaningful organizations that build houses, distribute food, and educate children. On the downside, I don’t think she even mentions unions as part of the progressive solution, whereas Bernie takes unionism more seriously.

Huffington’s book ends with 3 pages of bullet items that starts with “Demonstrate at political rallies,” then goes on with a list of charities to join and political reforms to support. We can’t know whether her 1999 suggestions would have worked or not because we didn’t try it. We just let things get worse.

And they will, as long as the people in power remain there.

 

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?

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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.