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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

We can hang together or separately, as the saying goes.

benjamin-franklin

We must, indeed, all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately!

 

Almost everybody I’ve talked to wants to “do something” right away as concerns the anti-worker government anticipated  for January 20, 2017. For several nights after the election results were announced, thousands protested in the streets of several cities, including mine. As far as I could find out, they had a lot of enthusiasm but no program, no structure, and no strategy.

A month and a half later, we still don’t.

I’ve been asking around about inauguration weekend. So far, it sounds like there will be three rallies, one march, some people going off to the state capital and others going to the national capital. There are probably several more activities being cooked up.

The problem is that there is no coordination among them. As far as I’ve been able to find out, each of them is sponsored by one separate group of people and has demands created by and for solely that group.

Can We Afford to Stay Divided?

As far as I know, the progressive movement in my town (Dallas) has always been divided this way and that.  Every naive young innocent who ever got involved has said, “We’ve got to get together!” And of course it’s true, but I’ve never seen anybody do it.

The book I’ve been promoting, “Runaway Inequality” talks about “silos” and says that all the progressive groups are in their own silos. The solution, says author Les Leopold, is that we have to come out of our silos and start working together. He doesn’t say why we’re in those silos to begin with, nor how to get out.

The basic reason for the silos is funding. Nearly all “progressive” organizations have to raise money. In that sense, they are competitors for the almighty dollar, not partners in any real sense. No matter what high-minded reasons people may have had for creating an organization, their main purpose in life soon becomes raising enough money to pay staff salaries, not whatever they originally intended to accomplish. In a very real sense, they are exactly like churches, most of whom seem to have lost their sense of purpose centuries ago, and they have to raise money or die! How do you change that?

You have to appeal to individuals. Bernie Sanders showed us that it can be done and how to do it.

Why Can’t We Just Hit the Streets?

The main problem with “knee jerk” activism is that it doesn’t go anywhere. Witness the Occupy movement that had thousands of charged-up protesters. They had no program, in fact they deliberately avoided having a program. As a result, they left nothing behind but some really good slogans and memories. But there’s another, very serious, reason to be cautious about spontaneous street actions.

Leftists may not continue to own the streets in America. Remember, that the progressives in Germany tried to take on the better-organized, more unscrupulous, and better financed Storm Troopers in the streets, but it didn’t work out well for them!

In our lifetimes, leftists and leftist causes pretty much ruled the streets. The fascists have stayed inside the corporate boardrooms and left picketing, street rallies, and marches to the riff-raff (us). But Mr Trump regularly puts together rallies of tens of thousands of hotheads today, and he has already shown that he’s willing to encourage violence against any detractor!

I’m not saying we shouldn’t rule the streets. But we aren’t in the same situation we were in before November 8, 2016. It’s different now.

One Proposal for Unity

Progressive people who want to survive and thrive during the Trump Administration need serious strategies for coordinated activity. My proposal is a series of “teach ins,” conference calls, and, possibly, “retreats” to work on programs and to coordinate activities. At the very least, we could set up a “clearing house” function so that different groups would know what the others were planning.

Labor, as the most responsible and most consistently progressive part of the left, needs to center itself in this process.

Everybody going their own whichaway isn’t affordable any more.

–Gene Lantz

Hear “Workers Beat” on KNON radio, 89.3FM and knon.org every Saturday at 9 CST

Click here if you want to know what I really think