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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

I have two reasons why we aren’t fit to govern, one reason why we are, and a firm belief as to whether or not we ever will.

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Why Americans Can’t Govern Themselves

The first reason is obvious: Americans aren’t even trying to govern ourselves. In my town, we just finished critical local elections with about 5% turnout of eligible voters. “Eligible voters” is the electorate plus the large percentage who didn’t even register.

The issues were really big and really clear. The establishment was lined up on one side and the people on the other. Everybody had a big stake, but hardly anybody responded.

The other thing against our ability to govern ourselves is the crippling divisions between those few of us who have shown that we give a damn. Example: my group called a rally last Friday, then had to try to reconcile with two other groups calling conflicting activities. We were able to come together with one of them, but the other wouldn’t budge. Here’s a laugh for you, the two groups most divided, most sectarian, least concerned about building a unified movement, were factions of “Indivisible!”

The divided progressive organizations make little effort to work together. They may call for “unity” all the time, and they do, but their idea of “unity” is “everybody follow me!” Very few of our disparate groups have a coherent strategy that makes any sense.

Hardly any of us recognize the central role of the working class in any effort to make progress against the 1%. If we did, we’d be working hard to stop Congress and the State Legislatures from undermining organized labor, but we aren’t.

Why Americans Can Govern Themselves

It’s all relative. I just made a couple of points explaining why the American people can’t govern ourselves, but I didn’t mention that we are far better prepared than the people who are running things now. One could start clicking the days off the calendar before the rich capitalists destroy all of us, including themselves, with their wars and pollution!

So the American people may not be very fit to govern, but we’re miles better than the present rulers!

Who Will Win the Contest?

Our side will win. It’s only a matter of time. Human history can be thought of as a struggle between knowledge and ignorance, between reason and superstition. In the long arc of history, knowledge and reason are the winning side.

In my fifty years of activism, I’ve seen extremely hopeful trends developing. People are better educated,  smarter, and more capable than before. Much more! Major organizations like the AFL-CIO have re-invented themselves and now promote progressive unity. Old divisions like racism and homophobia are much less effective than they were.

Folks worry today that the capitalists will soon choose to govern through fascism rather than the time-honored American method of limited democracy. I’m one of those worried people, but even a dreadful period of fascism would be temporary. The capitalists cannot solve the problems they caused that way or any other way.

Given time, the people will prevail. I just hope we live that long.

–Gene Lantz

I’m still broadcasting on http://www.knon.org/workers-beat/ at 9 Central Time every Saturday. Join me and call in 972-647-1893.

The Mayday protest I attended in Dallas had about 150 participants.

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Mark York and Lorraine Montemayor of Dallas AFL-CIO were among the Mayday protesters

It was probably the largest Mayday Protest in Dallas since the anti-communist witch hunt began in 1946. Certainly, it was the biggest one I’ve seen, because we normally don’t have anything at all on International Workers Day. Even if we had, it wouldn’t have had union support.

There were Mayday actions all over the United States, for a change. Usually, they have them all over the world EXCEPT for the United States. That’s how things are changing.

What Do We Get Done?

I’ll be the first to admit that the Mayday protesters were there for different reasons. A lot of them probably didn’t know that the Workers Defense Project had organized the event specifically to target Wells Fargo Bank for having financed the scandalous immigrant detention centers in Texas. It’s not likely that Wells Fargo management is going to change its habits just because of this picket, so people might legitimately ask, why come?

I can think of a list of reasons:

  • Every public action is a training ground for the future struggles that will, must, come
  • Well-done actions help us get better organized for the future
  • When people see us protesting, they are just a little bit less afraid than before
  • We need to develop leaders, and leadership comes out of struggle
  • Camaraderie feels right, feels good
  • Taking sides against our common foes feels right, feels good
  • Our actions impart critical information not otherwise available
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A Workers Defense Project staffer named Jason gathered contact info for all the participants 

So, in the short run, people protest because we like doing it. In the longer run, we do it because the general direction of politics in the United States is going against working people and must be changed. Building a strong workers’ movement isn’t just one of many ways to change America, it is ultimately the only way.

It’s Not Easy

Building a workers movement that can stand up to our employers will not happen spontaneously. It will have to be built, and it will take hard work. Right now, Americans do not understand what is happening to them and they don’t know what to do about it. Even if they did, they’re mostly too afraid to try. Every person who turns out for public actions is chipping away at those obstacles!

-Gene Lantz

Find me at http://knon.org at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday

 

 

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?

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!

Does the progressive movement have its leadership today?

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Richard Trumka, President of AFL-CIO

Leadership is everywhere – popping out of our computer screens every time we look! The problem is that they are nearly all self-appointed, untested, and mostly unqualified.

The most popular leaders – Senator Sanders, Senator Warren, Mrs Clinton, etc – all suffer from tunnel vision — a single-minded determination that we will win at the ballot box, while the truth is that democracy keeps shifting away like sand in an hourglass.

Not that elections aren’t critical – but they’re not the only form of struggle. The best leadership available today is the American Federation of Labor/Congress of Industrial Organizations, the AFL-CIO.

Not That Labor Leadership Is Perfect

What we really need is a mass workers’ political party beholden only to working families. We don’t have one, and I don’t see one on the immediate horizon. But when it does come, it is most likely to come out of the AFL-CIO.

Here are some of the positive arguments for AFL-CIO leadership of the progressive movement:

  1. Unions have more money than all the tiny little organizations that are begging for contributions every day.
  2. They have physical buildings, meeting places that are long-established in communities. Here where I live, nearly all the progressive groups try to get into the Communications’ Workers Hall, and the AFL-CIO encourages them.
  3. Say what you might against the better-paid union members, they are solidly working class. If you think about it, most of the progressive groups vying for leadership are actually led by preachers and professionals – people in the ideologically uncertain “in between” class.
  4. While the AFL-CIO works hard on elections, they also work hard year-round on lobbying, organizing workers, participating in protests, economic struggle, and organizing mass demonstrations
  5. Since the leadership turnover of 1995, AFL-CIO leadership has affirmatively tried to end its old policy of isolation. For example, they no longer call for deportation of all undocumented immigrants – they call for organizing them. They have active Constituency Groups trying to organize working people as interest groups such as women, Latinos, gays, etc. Some of the better labor leaders are also coming out strong for public presence and improved communications. They also established Working America to incorporate, politically, all American workers whether or not they work under union contracts.
  6. Many unions maintain a relationship with their vast numbers of retirees and, consequently, greatly increase the union’s political clout. Non-union retirees, like non-union workers, are pretty much on their own, and largely helpless, as political entities.
  7. Increasingly, unions are partnering across national lines. It’s not there yet, but it’s on its way to becoming a world movement.
  8. The basic idea of unionization is cooperation of all workers in a workplace, consequently today’s unions tend to be anti-racist, anti-sexist etc. Women in unions, for example, have already largely achieved the American dream of equal pay for equal work.

OK, There’s a Downside

The reasons that union movement leadership isn’t as good as a mass Workers Party could also be listed:

  1. Individual unions, which make up the AFL-CIO and provide its revenue, are defensive organizations with one dominating purpose – to defend their members against their particular employer. Broader social concerns aren’t the main business of union locals nor of their national leaderships. This constraint has less of an influence on labor’s federation, the AFL-CIO, but it is fundamental to understanding the union movement.
  2. As mentioned above, union members tend to make more money than non-union members; consequently, they don’t share exactly the same viewpoints. While many workers dream of making $15/hour someday, some union members are already making $35!
  3. Union contracts are based on seniority. That means that older longer-term workers tend to displace the younger workers. There is almost no other way to keep bosses from applying work rules unfairly, so seniority rules in union contracts. The aging of the union membership is a harmful consequence. “Who has the youth has the future,” goes the saying, and some of America’s unions try hard to cultivate younger leaders, but seniority keeps pushing them out the door!
  4. While the unions fight hard against losing jobs to outsourcing, they have virtually no defense against losing jobs to automation. This was not always true – the CIO (pre-1955) always fought for shorter working hours – but it seems to be true now. The reason may be that workers, including union workers, are also consumers. As consumers, they are debt-ridden and addicted to overtime pay. They may be averse to discussing shorter working hours as a social solution.
  5. To someone outside the unions, it may seem strange, but some union leaders tend to want to keep things the way they are rather than embrace change. The reason, believe it or not, is fundamental democracy within the labor movement! The present corps of union leaders were democratically elected by their members just the way things are. Any change, especially change that involves mobilizing the membership, is change that will “rock the boat” before the next union elections. If the membership undergoes change, how will the next union elections turn out? This has to be on the minds of local union and national union leaders, but is less of a problem for the AFL-CIO federation.
  6. The AFL-CIO, I think intentionally, has no real sense of history. Without an honest history, they tend to ask people to believe the self-serving union histories that exist. In those histories, all labor leaders of the past were heroes who never actually made a mistake.
  7. Unions aren’t intentionally revolutionary. Their revolutionary potential comes from their consistent advocacy for workers’ rights. The AFL-CIO’s anti-capitalism doesn’t come by intentional design, but from the nature of things. Bosses continually accuse union organizers of trying to destroy their own workplaces, but it isn’t true. Unions simply want a better deal for workers within existing workplaces, not a revolutionary overturn. The union struggle, then, might be seen as eternal, with unions always fighting bosses and always wanting to win in the immediate sense, but never wanting a decisive victory.

Summing Up: Stick With the Unions!

AFL-CIO leadership is today the best option for the progressive movement. An actual Workers Party that seeks power would be better, but a true mass Workers Party is more likely to come out of the AFL-CIO than from the imaginations of radical activists, the Democratic Party, or anywhere else. Consequently, those of us seeking progressive leadership should look to join a union, organize a union, join Working America, and/or, at the least, consult with the AFL-CIO for leadership in the progressive movement.

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.