Socialist Education Project (SEP)
Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS)
History the of SEP
As the twenty-first century unfolds we need to examine our approach to revolutionary education and the role of the SEP.
Almost a decade ago, the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism or CCDS proposed that the organization develop a Socialist Education Project. The proposal came at a time when the promise of the “new economy” built on the growth of the Silicon Valley had begun to fade. Neo-liberal globalization, so much celebrated by every United States administration since the late 1970s, continued to generate inequalities in wealth and income all around the globe. The process of financialization, that is a systemic economic shift from the production of goods and services to financial speculation, undergirded the growing pathology of capitalist development. In this economic and political environment mainstream commentators began to write about the insights that Marx and his followers brought to the study of capitalism. So it seemed to us in CCDS that a socialist political organization needed to explore rigorous study of the evolution of capitalism, Marxist analysis of how it works, and the logical possibilities for alternatives to it, particularly socialist ones.
The SEP was created. Local CCDS activists launched study groups. Members of the SEP committee generated reading materials to support local study groups. Some materials were assembled as “modules,” or integrated short courses with readings, questions for study, and bibliographic suggestions. These modules are still available for use.
Over the past several years SEP of CCDS have hosted a number of national discussion. We have discussed both books and current events, and articles of current interest but most discussions have been topical around current issues more than theoretical events. In addition, over the past year we have held “4th Monday” of the month teleconference discussions on a multitude of subjects. These discussions among 10-15 teleconference participants, while excellent, have not engaged the vast majority of our membership.
On Socialist Pedagogy
We want to address the question of pedagogy, specifically the process of learning. We believe that there is a socialist practice that is relevant both to our education and our political activities, and they are connected. In other words, when we form study groups they should be socialist study groups. These connections are well described in our book, The Struggle for a Substantive Democracy. The book is designed with young activists’ study groups as the primary audience.
People learn political principles through practice as well as through theory. One of the most influential educational theorists from the vantage point of radical socialist change was Brazilian educator Paulo Friere. His book, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, influenced revolutionaries and reformers around the world, particularly at the grassroots in the Global South. We have discussed Friere but need to continue our discussion, adding insights from other theorists such as Gramsci, Vygotsky, Piaget and contemporaries such as Henry Giroux.
For example, Heather Clayton explored five main points embedded in Freire’s work. According to her, Paulo Friere emphasized,
1. the importance of dialogue and the fact that the dialogue was two ways, contained in a respectful relationship. It meant that all participants in an educational setting must work together. In political groups discussions should involve equally intellectuals, those who primarily teach and write, and community activists,
2. ‘praxis’-action that was informed by knowledge and linked to values. Knowledge was not for the sake of knowledge only but was primarily to be used as a tool to empower people to impact on their world. For example, in the Jacobin discussion group in Lexington, Kentucky rich discussions occurred when, young white intellectuals were joined by activists from the community, shared knowledge derived from their own experience. This resulted from both groups learning. One of the most dynamic sessions is when we discussed gentrification.
3. building hope for the oppressed. As consciousness is increased, society can be transformed. The knowledge we seek, we seek because we want to change the world. Knowledge can be empowering. Knowledge provides an explanation of why human beings are in the situations they are in,
4. the importance of linking education with the real world experiences of the students. This means that real world political campaigns and struggles should inform discussions addressing questions such as what was learned, what worked, and what didn’t work? In which ways can these experiences be compared and contrasted with other struggles elsewhere and from the past? And,
5. trying to highlight and minimize the differences between teachers and learners. Each participant in any study group brings to the group a lifetime of experience. Economic survival, political activism, and organizational commitments, all framed by various educational backgrounds ensure the richness of discussion and debate.
Such practice aids in what describes “organic intellectual” development. Gramsci describes organic intellectuals as a designation whose function in society is to organize, administer, direct, educate or in other ways lead people. Both Gramsci and Friere are describing a method to use when organizing a social group to oppose the dominant group in a society. Both authors heavily rely on dialectics as the organizing structure for the arguments they make to describe both the theory and the practice.
(Heather Clayton, “From the Ideological to the Concrete: Ideas from Paulo Friere, Understanding by Design and the Ontario Curriculum and Their Implications to Layered Curriculum,” http://www.help4teachers.com/heatherpaper.htm).
Goals and Next Steps for SEP
Recommendation 1: : We need to keep what does work. We suggest we continue our 4th Monday topical discussions. We need to explore the reasons for the limited participation, perhaps surveying the membership for ideas about how to improve the readings and discussions to address specific needs.
To make a greater impact we need to:
– Involve more people in our discussions.
– Find out why more people do not participle. (Other national discussions draw 50 to hundreds of people).
Make an effort to broaden the ranks of those who attend, participate, and listen.Design the 4th Monday sessions to assist people who set up local study groups.
Use the online university of the left and thus train our people to do the same, especially as a source of materials for the local study groups
Recommendation 2: Every area should organize a reading group that has discussions based upon articles from, for example, the Jacobin, (https://www.jacobinmag.com/reading-groups/), Monthly Review, In These Times, and other socialist or progressive publications, or CCDS Links which is available electronically. For example, Jacobin reading groups have already been created in various locations. The Socialist Education Project could assist in connecting activists with appropriate literature and possible participants in various areas.
Recommendation 3: We need to do more and deeper theoretical work
We propose development of an on-line study group or groups that are more in depth and theoretical. (While the theoretical and deep discussions are important most people will not be able to use them until we provide metaphors through storytelling (personal experiences) that illustrate the theory. Many educators understand that experiences are metaphors and thus enrich discussions. For example, Gramsci notes that, “The apparatus of state coercive power which ‘legally’ enforces discipline on those groups who do not ‘consent’ either actively or passively. This apparatus is, however, constituted for the whole society in anticipation of moments of crisis of command and direction when spontaneous consent has failed (A Gramsci Reader, p. 307). A recent example, police killings of people (predominantly Black men), is an example where the ‘apparatus’ (policing practices) is breaking down because of technology that allows the most affected groups to get experiences expressed. The experiences describe the crisis. The crisis is informing the public who are demanding new ideas of policing as the current model has spontaneously failed. Such an understanding of pedagogy informs the organic intellectual because the in-depth and theoretical discussions can assist in groups of people who together for a cause to help end or reduce oppression(s).
We need to explore dialectical teaching methods both theoretically derived from the Marxist heritage and contemporary educator/activists. Dialectical pedagogy started with Hegel and the material
There have been several areas suggested to do this deeper theoretical study.
1. Use The Struggle for a Substantive Democracy for groups to begin their discussions so that an analysis and thinking using dialectics informs future discussions.
2. 21st Century Socialism. What is it or how do we build it? What do we mean by socialism? How is it created? Dialectics (Marx or Hegel/Marx) must be a central part of this work as the starting point for pedagogy for use in the study group. For example, topics need to include: the spiral of learning, contradictions, unity of opposites…etc.
3. A study of African American history in the US. We will soon have published the Democracy Charter Study Guide. Also there are some excellent books to read, The Half That Has Never Been Told, and Slavery by Another Name.
4. Views and positions from participants in the Black Lives Matter movement.
5. A study of the relationship between European and Indigenous cultures. For example, the relationship between the former Soviet government, the CPUSSR and the Native peoples of northern Russia should be explored
Recommendation 4: Types of study groups could include, but are not limited to:
1. These studies can take place on a number of different levels. One set of classes can be conceived of for a broader progressive community and another specifically for people who are come from the Left and who may be interested in joining CCDS, and finally a group for theoretical studies.
Recommendation 4: Both SEP study groups, committees and chapters of CCDS should play a larger role in summing up work in their areas so as to provide leadership to the organization as well as the mass movement. For example, the Days of Grace Movement, that began in Charleston, SC after a blatantly racist killing of nine beautiful people. Reduction of gun violence was a direct spinoff of this movement and is taking a public health perspective to help people understand ways to reduce gun violence in a society where guns are very readily available.
Recommendation 5: Make better use of the Online University of the Left in all of our work.
1. Do education among our membership on how to use this.
2. Use the information in all of the above
3. Work with NCC members and chapter members on how to use this effetely
4. Hold an on line discussion on how to use this good recourse
5. Utilize materials for discussion at local book stores, and
6. Encourage teachers to use these resources as appropriate.
These are six recommendations we can take to expand and deepen our revolutionary education work in CCDS. We have many fine activists in our organization. We should strive to change some of those activists into organizers and those organizers into organic intellectuals. We should do this in the spirit of left unity. We call on members to join us on the SEP to help us accomplish these tasks.
By Carl Davidson
For our pre-convention discussion
From its inception, CCDS has seen itself as a transitional organization, a bridge to something larger, more inclusive and more effective as a political instrument for the US left in the 21st century.
We are now nearly over that bridge, and if you’ll pardon my mixing metaphors, we are also now nearing the end game. The chess players among you will appreciate the point. Our forces are much reduced, and the end game is always very tricky. If you play it carelessly, coasting along, without much thought, well, you can easily lose. But if you play the end game well, you can still win.
What would winning look like in our ‘end game’? Let’s start with who we are. We have about 400 members active to some degree, and perhaps half of that fully active. We are largely ‘1968ers’, veterans of the ‘Long 1960s,’ starting in 1958 or so and extending into the early 1970s.
This means we have a lot of wisdom and political experience under our belts, and that we are, for the most part, well embedded in mass organizations-trade union and civil rights, peace and justice, women and climate change, and so on. I won’t do the whole laundry list, but despite low numbers, we are fairly well connected and embedded in the mass struggles.
Demographically, we are also increasingly retirees. This frees up many of us to devote even more time to the cause. But it also means, to a great degree, some of us also reduce our level of activity and engagement-and it’s only natural and personally healthy that we do so. Nonetheless, we don’t have the same connections with a younger, rising generation, or social lives that bring us into regular contact with them, their groups and their debates and ideas.
In brief, I’m arguing that politics is largely generational, especially politics with revolutionary goals embedded in radical insurgencies. The main fighting forces today come from the Millennials, and we are increasingly on the other side of a generational divide to a degree that we can no longer discount. I’ll also note here that we are not alone in facing this problem. The CPUSA and other groups largely made up of 1968ers face the same difficulties.
We have been well aware of this situation for some time. A few years back, we tried to organize ‘inter-generational dialogues’ in ten cities. We had mixed results. A few were excellent, others less so-but we made a good effort. For at least five years, we have also taken part in gatherings that draw in young radicals, like the Left Forum and the School of the Americas Watch, to engage in discussions and present ourselves with an upbeat public face, aiming to draw in younger recruits. We have created a number of valuable tools for radical education-the Online University of the Left, CCDSLinks, the annual publication of Dialogue and Initiative in an attractive book form, regular online discussion forums-and we have hosted or taken part in a number of ‘Left Unity’ gatherings and mass campaigns, like the Fight for 15, Black Lives Matter, and the Sanders campaign, largely comprised of younger people.
All this is to the good. But for us, it’s still not enough. A ‘next left’ of 21st Century socialists is indeed emerging, but not quite as we planned or thought it might happen. Our major miscalculation was an assumption that we could draw these people to us. That, to be frank, with a few valuable exceptions, is not likely to happen. Instead, we are going to have to merge with them. That’s the ‘radical rupture’ I’m proposing for our ‘end game.’ It was also the main conclusion Carl Bloice and I arrived at together in a discussion we had the month before his unfortunate passing.
So what should we do? Let’s start with our aforementioned 400 members. What would be an ambitious goal over the next, say, three years? How about helping to pull together a nationwide left unity project with, say, some 4000 cadres? Obviously, this is not going to happen with us alone, or even mainly with us. But what would we want of such a formation?
First, that it be primarily made up of people from the 20 to 45 age range, ie, the generation of our children and their younger friends. (This comes from the strategic consideration that every revolutionary force in history is comprised mainly of the young).
Second, we would want it to be a full rainbow of nationalities, even a ‘majority of minorities’ as well as well-balanced genderwise. (This come from the strategic consideration that the US revolution’s main forces will come from mainly from an alliance and merger of the general workers movements with the struggles of the oppressed, especially people of color and women, ie, the dimension of ‘intersectionality.’)
Third, we would want them embedded in the insurgencies of the young ‘precariat’ as well as having a foothold in more traditional trade unions and civil society organizations.
Fourth, we would want them to be flexible on electoral matters, willing to back candidates like Bernie, Khasama Sawant, Greens and even, in some cases, ‘lesser evils.’ (This comes from the strategic notion that history is made by the masses and of necessity of exhausting the battles for democracy, including the winning of government positions, and forming multi-class alliances, popular fronts, in the process).
Fifth, we would want them to love learning, to transform themselves into the ‘organic intellectuals’ and ‘permanent persuaders’ of a new Modern Prince, of a dynamic and disciplined ‘militant minority’ but a militant minority OF a progressive majority. (This comes from the deep connection between strategic alliances and the need for a core independent organization of the sector of the working class aiming for a new socialist order as well as immediate and transitional victories-the stronger the core, the broader the front).
The good news is that these forces are on the horizon, or exist in embryo, however you want to put it. The one with national reach is LeftRoots, which is working, city by city, to transform from a network to city-based cadre organizations. Another is the Boston Left Unity Project and NYC’s Left Labor Project, where CCDS, CP, Solidarity, Freedom Road, Jacobin Readers and others are meeting and planning educational events. There are already more than 40 Jacobin reading groups spread across the country, and we are active in at least three of them. Still others are new local circles of Millennial socialists-Philly Socialists, Kentucky Workers League, Appalachian Left, Louisville Socialists and others. They have been holding joint study retreats and conferences.
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For our pre-convention discussion.
by Duncan McFarland
First I want to consider both the world situation and needs of the larger movement, and then how CCDS may contribute. Globally, climate change is growing worse, and while there was political progress at COP21 in Paris, measures to respond are still inadequate. Countries are modernizing their nuclear arsenals and wars are constant. In the US, the rich get richer while others struggle, racism and anti-immigrant sentiment is increasing. On the other hand, leftist social movements are strengthening, the prestige of socialism in increasing among young people, and there is rising populist energy on both the left and right. Confidence in mainstream institutions has fallen to a low point; this polarization is reflected in the enthusiasm for Sanders and Trump in the presidential campaign and corresponding lack of juice for Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush.
In the world today, US capitalism/imperialism is losing economic clout, has ceded all moral authority, and has declining political influence. US policy more and more relies on its only trump card, military power. Is this the period of the final decline of global capitalism? It is difficult to predict whether capitalism will again renew itself as it has always done since the many crises since World War I, but certainly this is a time of weakening of the system and opportunity for a strong anti-capitalist movement.
Marx and Engels clearly foresaw in general terms the eventual breakdown of the capitalism, leading to revolution and socialism. They described in scientific terms the historic role of the communists, socialists and working class as the leading force in the transformation to the new society. Setting aside for now consideration of the role of the five states internationally which are a product of socialist revolution (Cuba, China, Vietnam, Laos and North Korea), the socialist movement in the US is today fragmented, lacks power and is mostly ineffective in stepping up to fulfill its historic mission. This poses a dilemma, there are "no shortcuts" in rebuilding socialism yet the time of day requires urgency. Much that is relevant can be learned from left movements especially in Latin America and Europe.
The time has passed for the 1960s activist generation to form the leadership core for social transformation in the US. Older folks have a seat at the table, they may still make an important and even critical contribution, but the still challenging decisions on structure and program for the socialist movement will mostly be made by younger comrades.
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COP 21 what was achieved, what are the challenges to the Climate Justice movement?
By David Schwartzman
COP 21 just concluded its meeting on December 12 in Paris. COP 21 was the 21st meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change, a process started in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit. Climate justice activists generally had very sober expectations of its outcome, although this COP meeting was the first at which virtually all countries will at least submit their national plans with regard to climate change, subject to periodic review.
What did the COP 21 process achieve?
1) Agreed to goal of keeping global temperature increase “well below” 2 deg C and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 deg C warming above pre-industrial by 2100. (Goal but no penalties for failing to achieve INDCs, the Intended National Determined Contributions to curb carbon emissions over a projected time period). For more information on the results of COP21 go to: http://newsroom.unfccc.int/unfccc-newsroom/finale-cop21/
Significance of the 1.5 deg C target
“The fact that the accord prominently mentions the 1.5 °C target is a huge victory for vulnerable countries, says Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Dhaka, Bangladesh. “Coming into Paris, we had all of the rich countries and all of the big developing countries not on our side,” says Huq, an adviser to a coalition of least-developed nations. “In the 14 days that we were here, we managed to get all of them on our side.” (Nature Dec. 17, 2015).
2) 176 nations including the biggest greenhouse gas polluters, China, U.S. and EU, made specific commitments (INDCs) to eventually curb their greenhouse gas emissions, as well as to peak them as soon as possible.
(Note: Roughly 60 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from fossil-fuel use, with coal, natural gas (due to methane leakage into the atmosphere), and tar sands oil having the highest carbon footprint. Conventional liquid oil has the lowest carbon footprint, about three-fourths that of coal. (The other greenhouse gases derived from human activity include nitrous oxide, the breakdown product of nitrate fertilizer, with carbon dioxide and methane also coming from agriculture.)
3) This agreement requires a review of progress towards increasing their INDCs every five years, in a transparent process.
(“Each Party shall communicate a nationally determined contribution every five years …and any relevant decisions of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement..”, p. 22, ADOPTION OF THE PARIS AGREEMENT, December 12, 2015; You can download a pdf of this treaty at: http://unfccc.int/essential_background/library/items/3599.php?such=j&symbol=FCCC/CP/2015/L.9#beg)
4) Agreement included a commitment to $100 billion a year in climate finance for developing countries by 2020, and to further finance in the future.
5) The Paris Agreement is nearly universal, and as such is a symbolic step towards global cooperation and a more peaceful world.
How far is the Paris Agreement from an effective prevention program to avoid Catastrophic Climate Change?
Based on sum of INDC commitments: 2.7 to 3.5 deg C warming above pre-industrial by 2100 instead of agreed goal of keeping global temperature increase “well below” 2 deg C and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 deg C.
In the Introduction to the treaty itself we find: “much greater emissions reduction efforts will be required” to meet even the 2-degree target.
According to the IPCC holding warming to 2 °C will probably require emissions to be cut by 40–70% by 2050 compared with 2010 levels, Achieving the 1.5 °C target would require substantially larger emissions cuts — of the order of 70–95% by 2050.
Since the Paris Agreement doesn’t fully take effect until 2020 the chance to achieve the 1.5-degree goal will have already gone, unless all of the world’s largest economies dramatically change course.
Some climate scientists/activists assessments
Jim Hansen, retired NASA climate scientist: “It’s a fraud really, a fake,” .. “It’s just bullshit for them to say: ‘We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.’ It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.”
Patrick Bond, climate justice leader from South Africa: “Since 2009, US State Department chief negotiator Todd Stern successfully drove the negotiations away from four essential principles: ensuring emissions-cut commitments would be sufficient to halt runaway climate change; making the cuts legally binding with accountability mechanisms; distributing the burden of cuts fairly based on responsibility for causing the crisis; and making financial transfers to repair weather-related loss and damage following directly from that historic liability. Washington elites always prefer ‘market mechanisms’ like carbon trading instead of paying their climate debt even though the US national carbon market fatally crashed in 2010.”
What is the way forward for Climate Justice?
Rather than immobilizing the climate justice movement from the recognition of the huge challenges unaddressed in the COP21 agreement, indications so far point to a reenergizing process as a result, building on its recent victories such as the rejection of the X-L Keystone pipeline by President Obama and the actions of cities around the world to take more aggressive steps to curb their greenhouse gas emissions and transition to renewable energy supplies.
I suggest the following issues be put front and center:
1) The huge subsidies going to fossil fuels (IMF study: $5 trillion/year), with indirect costs including health impacts from air pollution (3-7 million die every year), with a goal to nationalize and decentralize with community management and ownership clean energy supplies in a full transition to wind/solar power.
2) The Military Industrial (Fossil Fuel Nuclear State Terror and Surveillance) Complex as block to achieving global cooperation for rapid curb on greenhouse gas emissions and a full global transition to wind/solar power. The Pentagon/Nato is the instrumental arm of Imperial foreign policy of the MIC, so while the Pentagon is going “green” with respect to energy conservation and use of renewables it is simply “greenwashing its Imperial role. The Pentagon’s recognition of the growing security threat from climate change reinforces the Imperial Agenda and military spending. Yes, of course there are critical contradictions within capital regarding energy policy, and the Green New Deal strategy must capture the “solar” faction of capital into a multi-class alliance to force demilitarization and termination of the perpetual war dynamic to have any hope of implementing a C3 prevention in time. Does any socialist believe that this prevention program can be realized as long as the State Terror apparatus is locked in the vicious cycle of violence with its useful enemy, its terrorist antagonist ?
As I concluded my Jacobin interview, the “vision of a knowledge-based, democratic, and socialist transition is building in passion and intensity, but it must confront its blind spots and weaknesses. In particular it must focus on forcing the dissolution of the military-industrial complex — a goal which is simultaneously a requirement for preventing catastrophic climate change and removing a major barrier to an ecosocialist path and the end of capitalism on our planet.”
To sum up, CCDS’s strategy remains very relevant: Build movement for a Global Green New Deal
I recommend an excellent resource: Trade Unions for Energy Democracy:
Also see my website with Peter Schwartzman, my older son:
For more from my perspective check out this Jacobin interview, December 1, 2015:
David Schwartzman, email@example.com
By Harry Targ
During the twentieth century the dominant circumstances of political life were clear. As capitalism evolved from manufacturing to finance, the character of international relations changed. Crude militarism, while constant, was increasingly aided by covert operations, and most importantly by economic penetration.
The United States as the hegemonic actor on the world stage during most of the century was the clear target of anti-war activism and class struggle at home. National liberation movements rose up to resist the drive for imperial control. Since contradictions existed in international and intra-national affairs our task was clearly to struggle against imperialism, monopoly capitalism, racism and sexism.
Twenty-first century global political economy is also characterized by these key features. Perhaps the “grand narrative,” as post-modernists would call it, remains the same. But, and this is critical, the politics of daily life is far more complicated and it is these complications that give the appearance of chaos. The old narrative and the chaos we experience need to be understood together; particularly among those of us who are committed to the vision of a twenty-first century socialism.
First, the current violence in the Middle East/Persian Gulf is escalating and spreading to other regions. The vicious violence in Paris and Beirut by presumably ISIS followers leads to mass murder. ISIS seems to represent a new brutal form of anti-systemic violence that shows no mercy or humanity. It has its roots in French and British colonial rule in the Middle East, United States collaboration with the Saudi monarchy, western support for the creation of the state of Israel in contradiction to those living on the land, a US-led war on Iraq in 1991, and the US wars of the twenty-first century in Afghanistan and Iraq. Blood is on the hands of every western power in the region but, in terms of victims of violence everywhere, blood also is on the hands of ISIS, Al Qaeda, the Syrian government, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, Russia, and Iran. Violence is about economic control, political hegemony, nationalism, resistance, and, perhaps to a lesser extent, religious sectarianism and fundamentalisms. The violence is also about arms transfers, racism, and hate.
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By Paul Krehbiel
Pat Fry has presented a very good document to begin our pre-convention discussion. Titled, "The Progressive Majority, Left Unity, and the Tasks of CCDS," she begins by explaining how and why CCDS was founded, the development of our main document (For a Democratic and Socialist Future), the development of the theory of the Progressive Majority as our basic organizing strategy (and proposals to change that strategy), efforts to build left unity, and the role of the left — especially CCDS. She talked about the key mass movements of our time, the links CCDS has to these movements, and efforts to build a more united and stronger left to win more victories for the people while laying the foundation for socialism. I agree with the general framework of our main political document and Pat’s presentation.
With this paper, I want to specifically add to Pat’s last paragraph. After addressing the major tasks before us (and the broader left), Pat states that "the tasks outstrip our capacity within CCDS as we face a declining membership in numbers and demographics, faltering finances, and weak local chapters." Given this, Pat recommends that we consider reorganizing the internal structure of CCDS, and focus on left unity and educational work.
I want to suggest that we add an organizing component to this, with more details and focus in our organizing plan and strategy to address how to best organize on the ground. Regarding the size of our membership, we have what we have and have to start here. More important is developing the best possible organizing plan and strategy. If that is done, we will gain new members. This is not a simple task. A number of efforts have been made to do this and I want to acknowledge and pay tribute to those efforts. Every effort has helped, and has added to our store of knowledge of how to develop an effective organizing strategy. Because this task is difficult, I want to recommend that we make a concerted effort to probe this topic during our pre-convention discussion period. In my view, this is the most important task before us, precisely because of Pat’s assessment of CCDS in her last paragraph. My goal is to begin the discussion of how we can recruit more members, build active and strong chapters, and improve our finances. In short, it requires a detailed organizing plan.
CCDS has played and continues to play an important and unique role within the left and progressive movements. To see CCDS decline and possibly cease to exist would be a significant loss to the left, the people’s movement’s, and to the larger society. I say this not to slight other left organizations and movements. Almost every organization on the left has a positive role to play. We recognize and welcome the contributions they make. Trying different strategies and tactics, and having different focuses of work, all add to the cumulative knowledge of the left and society and how to conduct our work. Life will reveal which strategies succeed and which need retooling.
When I urge a focus on building CCDS, this does not mean a shift away from mass work, nor theoretical and educational work. To the contrary, mass work, based on rich theoretical and educational work, must be at the center of what we do. The question is: how do we carry out mass work in a way that will best strengthen the mass movements, and CCDS.
To begin this discussion, I want to offer several ideas. I am not presenting a fully developed organizing plan. But I’m hopeful that these ideas will stimulate a discussion that will lead to that goal.
We need a simple, clear and bold statement of who we are, what we believe, what we want, and how we propose to succeed. This should be printed in many copies for public consumption. It should be short enough that it can be read in a couple of minutes, and be easily understood by all. This would be the main introduction of CCDS to the people and to those we want to recruit. This would spell out simply what we believe and make it easy for people to say, "yes, I agree with that, and I know why I’m joining." What follows is a first draft of that proposed document; I welcome feedback, discussion, amendments, etc.
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For CCDS Pre-Convention Discussion
By Pat Fry, CCDS Co-Chair
This paper is offered for pre-convention discussion. The first section is a review of the history of CCDS and the “Progressive Majority” movement-building strategy. The second section reviews Left Unity efforts and its relationship to building the Progressive Majority. The final section is on the tasks of the left and CCDS as we approach our national convention in July 2016.
Section 1 “For a Democratic and Socialist Future”
“For a Democratic and Socialist Future” is the founding document of CCDS. It was the focus of discussions for two years beginning with a national conference, “Perspectives for Democracy and Socialism in the 1990s,” held in 1992 in Berkeley, CA. The conference brought together over a thousand leftists from various political backgrounds. Many had recently resigned from the Communist Party USA in a struggle over democracy within the organization. Others had been members of various Socialist parties and many others were unaffiliated. Organizations sent representatives such as Solidarity, the National Committee for Independent Political Action, and the Crossroads magazine. There was an excitement about the possibility of launching a revitalized Left guided by principles of democracy and socialism, one that would “brush aside old barriers” and “develop constructive dialog on strategic issues and seek agreement on action.”
A committee elected at the Berkeley conference met to chart a course for what became the Committees of Correspondence, founded in Chicago in July 1994. The “For a Democratic and Socialist Future” document was the defining goals and principles of the new socialist organization. It presented an analysis of class forces in the aftermath of the collapse of Soviet socialism, and the importance of rebuilding a democratic and socialist left in the face of capitalist triumphalism over the defeat of much of the socialist world.
When the CoC was founded, Bill Clinton had been in the White House for two and a half years. The founding document noted that while the Clinton administration was more responsive to popular pressure and his election was a defeat for the extreme anti-people policies of Reagan and Bush, the Clinton “New Democrats” represented a growing long-term influence of neo-conservatism. Clinton’s refusal to raise the minimum wage, the ending of Aid to Dependent Children, “workfare, not welfare,” and NAFTA were examples cited. The newly founded Committees of Correspondence called for a new political realignment in the country:
“We believe that what is needed is a comprehensive approach linking progressive currents into a broad, ongoing democratic force. We advocate a powerful, democratic political realignment, based on a new progressive social contract which empowers the masses of American working people.”
A vision of socialism was outlined:
“By socialism we do not mean a social system in which the state dominates everything, or in which authoritarian measures are used to restrict human rights. Socialism without democracy is not socialism at all.” Rather, socialism “is a political, cultural, economic and ethical project, a struggle to transform power relations within a class divided society for the benefit of the overwhelming majority of the people. Socialism is not a fixed entity, but the social product of the dynamics of class struggle. Socialism must and will be constantly redefined by oppressed people who are engaged in struggle, over a long period of time.”
The Committees envisioned itself as a bridge to a larger socialist organization:
“While we seek to facilitate strategic cooperation among existing left groups which share basic principles, we believe there is a need for a much larger progressive and socialist organization, one more reflective of the working class and oppressed communities and the radical democratic movements than any existing organization. “
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The long awaited nuclear deal between Iran, the US and other world powers is to be welcomed. in addition to limiting the spread of nuclear weapons, it also portends a historic change in Middle East regional politics. It’s a step towards a long-term reduction of tensions and the chances of a major war. It is a step towards normalizing a situation where the US has refused to recognize Iran, historically a major power in the region for 3000 years. And it’s a step that enables Iran to develop its economy in ways favorable to its people.
The agreement is lauded by progressives and opposed by most Republicans, too many Democrats, the pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC, Netanyahu and other right wing forces. CCDS encourages all its members to support adopting the agreement by signing petitions, public education and lobbying Congress.
That doesn’t mean we agree with all its provisions or how it was obtained. Ostensibly about a possible nuclear weapons program in the future, the issue is really about the strategy of maintaining US dominance in the Middle East. The Neocons want to maintain hegemony through use of military force. Multilateral pragmatists in the foreign policy elite, however, understand that US interests in the long term must recognize the actual shift towards a multi-polar world. We are opposed to US dominance by any means, and peace in the region is not served by unquestioning support for Israel. But even from its own perspective, the US refusal to engage Iran ultimately drives that country into closer relations with US perceived rivals, Russia and China. In this way, US imperialism was forced to change its policy.
CCDS supports the Non-Proliferation Treaty’s call for a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone in the Middle East, which would require Israel to dismantle its nuclear program. US sanctions against Iran must be ended as soon as possible, as they have hurt mostly the poor, sick and elderly. The US must end its program of covert aggression against Iran which has included cyber attacks, targeted assassinations, drone surveillance and JSOC operations. The US should move to full diplomatic relations with Iran. This would enable more effective actions to counter ISIS, enhance stability in the region, and create a better environment for the working class and democratic movements to organize and advance an agenda of prosperity, collective security and peaceful co-existence.
CCDS NEC, July 31, 2015
By Left Strategy Collective Members
May 30, 2015 – There is something bubbling beneath the surface in the US. Everyone can feel it. Everywhere there are mass actions – on issues ranging from fast food workers’ rights, to deportations, from the latest police killing, to community displacement, from defending collective bargaining, to getting clean water, from getting the water turned back on, to ending the occupation of Gaza.
There is something bubbling, but the question remains whether it will evaporate into steam or explode like a volcano. Capitalism confronts people all over the world, including the US, and its crises implicate the very survival of humankind. Yes, there are sprinkled victories, hopeful uprisings, and electoral surprises, but we know in our hearts it is not enough.
We go to sleep with the question, "When and how?" When and how will the tables turn? When and how will we become a force in US politics and win power? When and how are we going to be able to change the nature of the field we are forced to play on? In order to address these questions, we need a strategy for the left. We will refer to "the left" here as those forces that oppose the capitalist, white supremacist, hetero-patriarchal system and seek to build an alternative society.
In this paper, we will make the case for the importance of strategy, we will lay out our definition of strategy and the components we believe are necessary for the building a game- changing strategy for the left. We would like to see the development and implementation of a strategy for power –where the oppressed are able to determine their own livelihood and how society functions. This strategy would necessarily be aimed at an emancipatory transition from capitalism.
This paper will not be the strategy. It is a contribution to the many left voices that are calling for the need for strategy, and to begin to build a shared language of what strategy is. We are a small core of leftists from different sectors of the movement. We do not believe that we alone can build this strategy. However we have some thoughts about what is to be done and we have a commitment to building the space to develop this strategy with like-minded leftists. Our hope is that the process of engaging in this level of strategy development will promote a new movement culture of more intentional, collective, and focused movement development that will bring us to game-changing victories and power that will transform this country.
WHAT IS STRATEGY?
The act of developing strategy should result in more than a political line, a political program, or a new organization. It will not be enough to have a clever slogan. It will not be enough to focus on a single task, tactic, or campaign. The type of strategy that is necessary to build among leftists would: 1) imagine and formulate a vision of an alternative to capitalism; 2) analyze the current conditions both on our side (the working class, organized forces, and the left overall) as well as the opposition (the ruling class and the capitalist state); and 3) work toward that vision through devising a continually evolving program that would strengthen the forces for liberation and weaken the capitalist forces on an economic, political, and ideological scale to the point of "putting it out of business" all together.
Tactics are different from strategy. Tactics are the specific types of actions we take to execute our strategy. The series of actions may make up a particular program, but they are not the entirety of our strategy. The strategy will determine plans, to be put into action, evaluated and summed-up. It will not be based on what worked in one city and then applied to a different city with completely different conditions. It will not be based on our personal moods, whims, or the flavor of the month. It will not be a mere goal with no way to achieve it. Goals are the aims that our strategy is built around. It will be a comprehensive approach that includes our analysis of conditions, our hypothesis of how we will build power and win. This strategy becomes a living course of action that is implemented, tested, summed-up, evaluated, and reworked. (Continued)
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From left: Janet Tucker, Anne Mitchell, Pat Fry
By Pat Fry
Photos by Ted Reich
A CCDS panel May 30th at the Left Forum, “Transforming Community and Labor Organizing into Electoral Victory,” was attended by a filled-to-capacity classroom of 40 people at John Jay College in NYC. This was no small feat – as 56 other panel workshops were held at the same time. The Left Forum is an annual 3-day conference attracting more than 4,000 activists and academics, youth, students, socialists, communists and progressives of many stripes. Hundreds of organizations sell books and distribute literature, CCDS among them.
The CCDS panel opened with remarks by Pat Fry, CCDS national co-chair, speaking of the importance of building grass roots campaigns to elect progressives to local, state and national government. Citing the example of Sen. Bernie Sanders and the Vermont Progressive Party, Fry said that Sanders’ many campaigns over four decades were successful because they were firmly rooted in community and labor struggles. Vermont through its Progressive Party leads the nation in the number of 3rd party state
legislators, said Fry.
From left: Andrea Miller, Paul Krehbiel, Ethan Young, Rosie Mendez
The Working Families Party successes in New York City and State are another example of organizing independent of the Democratic Party through local coalitions on issues. The WFP recently won a NY State Assembly seat solely on the WFP line in a campaign in Brooklyn, NY that targeted big money developers. Working Families has been successful in organizing election campaigns for the Ferguson, MO City Council and Philadelphia’s mayoral campaign for Jim Kenney with a union-led multi-sector coalition.
There are many lessons to learn from the Chokwe Lumumba mayoral campaign in Jackson, MS running as a Democrat as well as Ras Baraka’s campaign for Mayor of Newark, said Fry. Also important are the Richmond Progressive Alliance’s experience winning races for mayor and a majority of city council seats in CA, and Kshama Sawant’s election victory in a non-partisan election in Seattle, she said. (Continued)
These are examples of how coalition building of labor and community in the electoral arena can win against the rightwing and Wall Street interests, said Fry. “With this panel, we hope to share experiences and lessons of on-the-ground organizing to elect progressives on the inside to be the voice of movements on the outside – in our neighborhoods, precincts, workplaces, unions, peace and justice organizations,” said Fry.
New York City Councilmember Rosie Mendez described how she was elected through the efforts of the Coalition for a District Alternative (CODA), the community based activist organization that has elected progressives to the City Council for the last two decades. Members of CCDS have been activists of CODA since its founding in the early 1990s. Mendez is co-chair of the City Council’s Black, Latino, Asian caucus and one of 6 members of the LGBT caucus. CODA asked Mendez to run for the Council seat 10 years ago when she was a tenant organizer and involved in the many housing struggles that CODA helped to build. On City Council, Mendez has been a staunch supporter of public and affordable housing as well as fighting against the police “stop and frisk” policies, racial profiling and an advocate for an independent Inspector General within the NYPD to review police practices.
“I have been in office for 9 ½ years,” said Mendez, “and we have worked to build coalitions to save public housing, to rezone for new affordable housing. It all started with a group of people who decided to embrace democratic politics and push it as far left as we can. To be successful, we need organizations that are politically independent like CODA and that can work to keep elected officials true to the cause,” said Mendez.
Mendez was not able to stay for the entire panel due to the mobilization in the streets calling for the release of Puerto Rican independence fighter and political prisoner, Oscar López Rivera, which unfortunately conflicted with the panel discussion. Mendez talked about the importance of the mobilization to win his freedom after 34 years in U.S. prisons. (The march and rally drew 5,000. See
Ethan Young, Portside moderator, journalist and member of the Left Labor Project, talked about lessons of the Jesus “Chuy” Garcia campaign for mayor of Chicago in April, a campaign that stunned the political establishment with a near-win against theneo-liberal Democrat Rahm Emanuel. The Chicago Teachers Union and a coalition of labor, community, African Americans and Latinos were the base of the campaign that began late and with meager finances.
Though Garcia did not win, said Young, he garnered a significant 45% of the vote. Important also were the election of 7 new City Council members supported by labor and community forces which has strengthened the Progressive Reform Caucus in opposition to Emanuel’s Democratic Party machine. “They won in working class neighborhoods running against the strongest mayor that the city has ever seen,” said Young. He also acknowledged weaknesses in the Garcia campaign. “He was not as hard on neo-liberal policies and the police as he could have been and this played a role in his inability to shore up a big enough base to win,” said Young. Nevertheless, Chicago politics have been significantly impacted with an unprecedented challenge to the power of the neo-liberal Democratic Party machine in Chicago, he said.
Paul Krehbiel, a CCDS member in Los Angeles, has spent most of his political life on the outside of electoral politics through his union, organizing to put pressure on elected officials. The rise in right wing candidates throughout the Bush years, the Iraq war and the voter response that put Barack Obama in office showed the importance of working in the electoral arena to defeat the right, said Krehbiel. He drew attention to the Republican Gerrymandering project that moved the political landscape to the right in 2012 electorally even though voters in their majority moved to the left. As an example, he cited Michigan’s votes in 2012 where Democrats won 240,000 more votes than Republicans but elected only 6 Democrats of Michigan’s 15 Congressional seats. He urged reading the 2012 Red Map Summary Report that details how the Republican Party did it – even boasting about it, said Krehbiel.
As an antidote to the Republican Redmap strategy, Krehbiel drew from the lessons of the mid 1990s in Orange County, outside of Los Angeles. Krehbiel was part of a labor-community coalition to register Latino voters, a campaign led by the Southwest Voter Registration Project and Hermandad Mexicana that included student groups, unions, and the Catholic Church. In 1996 these efforts led to the election of the first Latin American from Orange County to Congress, Loretta Sánchez, who defeated a 6-term incumbent an extreme rightwinger Rep. Bob Dornan. Sánchez’ win galvanized a number of other successful campaigns electing Latinos to office.
Andrea Miller, who is the Executive Director of People Demanding Action, the civic arm of the Progressive Democrats of America and the former PDA Co-Executive Director, talked about how she was urged to run as the Democratic Party nominee in Virginia’s 4th CD in 2008. She ran on a program of jobs, Medicare for All and clean energy. An African American woman from Chicago, Miller won 40% of the vote in a predominantly white and rural “Bible Belt” district. Prior to her bid for Congress, Miller was MoveOn.org’s regional coordinator and then statewide coordinator of the Dennis Kucinich presidential campaign.
Miller spoke about the importance of the left running for political office. Though she did not win in 2008, a Democratic candidate now runs in every race in the 4th CD which had been ceded to the Republicans without a challenge. Addressing the question of why she agreed to run in the Democratic Party even though she identifies herself as a democratic socialist, Miller said “one big reason is that African Americans who were 33% of the voter population will not vote for anyone that is not running as a Democrat – no matter who or what.”
Miller came to know PDA because of the organization’s support for her 2008 campaign. She concluded her remarks talking about the importance of the Bernie Sanders for President campaign. She credited PDA as instrumental in convincing Sanders to run in the Democratic Party rather than as an independent. Miller urged the left to get involved in electoral politics and one good place to start is to run progressives for district leadership seats of the Democratic Party at the local level. Earlier in the panel, Councilmember Mendez described the same strategy used by CODA in NYC’s Lower East Side.
In discussion, a question was raised about why work in the Democratic Party instead of the Green Party and supporting Howie Hawkins for President. “Don’t the Democrats seize back power at the end of the day?” asked an audience participant.
Miller responded with “Political parties require structure and money. If you can raise the money to purchase voter files and build a campaign that can win very good. But if you can’t, take over someone else’s voter file,” she said.
For a video of the workshop GO HERE