Monday, January 9, 2017
FOREIGN POLICY: THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
Harry Targ, Co-Chair CCDS
An Empire in Decline
United States global hegemony is coming to an end. The United States was the country that collaborated with the Soviet Union to defeat fascism in Europe and with Great Britain to crush Japanese militarism in Asia in 1945. The Soviet Union, the first Socialist state, suffered 27 million dead in the war to defeat the Nazis. Great Britain, the last great imperial power, was near the end of its global reach because of war and the rise of anti-colonial movements in Asia and Africa.
As the beneficiary of war-driven industrial growth and the development of a military-industrial complex unparalleled in world history, the United States was in a position in 1945 to construct a post-war international political and economic order based on huge banks and corporations. The United States created the international financial and trading system, imposed the dollar as the global currency, built military alliances to challenge the Socialist Bloc, and used its massive military might and capacity for economic penetration to infiltrate, subvert, and dominate most of the economic and political regimes across the globe.
The United States always faced resistance and was by virtue of its economic system and ideology drawn into perpetual wars, leading to trillions of dollars in military spending, the loss of hundreds of thousands of American lives, and the deaths of literally millions of people, mostly people of color, to maintain its empire.
As was the case of prior empires, the United States empire is coming to an end. A multipolar world is reemerging with challenges to traditional hegemony coming from China, India, Russia, and the larger less developed countries such as Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, South Korea, and Thailand. By the 1970s, traditional allies in Europe and Japan had become economic competitors of the United States.
The United States throughout this period of change has remained the overwhelming military power, however, spending more on defense than the next seven countries combined. It remains the world’s economic giant even though growth in domestic product between 1980 and 2000 has been a third of its GDP growth from 1960 to 1980. Confronted with economic stagnation and declining profit rates the United States economy began in the 1970s to transition from a vibrant industrial base to financial speculation and the globalization of production.
The latest phase of capitalism, the era of neoliberal globalization, has required massive shifts of surplus value from workers to bankers and the top 200 hundred corporations which by the 1980s controlled about one-third of all production. The instruments of consciousness, a handful of media conglomerates, have consolidated their control of most of what people read, see, hear, and learn about the world.
A policy centerpiece of the new era, roughly spanning the rise to power of Ronald Reagan to today, including the eight years of the Obama Administration, has been a massive shift of wealth from the many to the few. A series of graphs published by the Economic Policy Institute in December, 2016 show that productivity, profits, and economic concentration have risen while real wages have declined, inequality has increased, gaps between the earnings of people of color and women and white men have grown, and persistent poverty has remained for twenty percent of the population. The austerity policies, the centerpiece of neoliberalism, have spread all across the globe. That is what globalization is about.
Paralleling the shifts toward a transnational capitalist system and the concentration of wealth and power on a global level, the decline of U.S power, relative to other nation-states in the twenty-first century, has increased. The wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the spreading violence throughout the Middle East have overwhelmed US efforts to control events. Russia, Iran, China, and even weaker nations in the United Nations Security Council have begun to challenge its power and authority. Mass movements increasingly mobilize against vial regimes supported by the United States virtually everywhere (including within the U.S. as well).
However, most U.S. politicians still articulate the mantra of “the United States as the indispensable nation.” The articulation of American Exceptionalism represents an effort to maintain a global hegemony that no longer exists and a rationale to justify the massive military-industrial complex which fuels much of the United States economy.
Imperial Decline and Domestic Politics
The narrative above is of necessity brief and oversimplified but provides a back drop for reflecting on the substantial shifts in American politics. The argument here is that foreign policy and international political economy are “the elephants in the room” as we reflect on the outcomes of the 2016 elections. It does not replace other explanations or “causes” of the election but supplements them.
First, the pursuit of austerity policies, particularly in other countries (the cornerstone of neoliberal globalization) has been a central feature of international economics since the late 1970s. From the establishment of the debt system in the Global South, to “shock therapy” in countries as varied as Bolivia and the former Socialist Bloc, to European bank demands on Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland, to Reaganomics and the promotion of Clinton’s “market democracies,” and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the wealth of the world has been shifting from the poor and working classes to the rich.
Second, to promote neoliberal globalization, the United States has constructed by far the world’s largest war machine. With growing opposition to U.S. militarism around the world, policy has shifted in recent years from “boots on the ground,” (although there still are many), to special ops, private contractors, drones, cyberwar, spying, and “quiet coups,” such as in Brazil and Venezuela, to achieve neoliberal advances.
One group of foreign policy insiders, the humanitarian interventionists, has lobbied for varied forms of intervention to promote “human rights, democratization, and markets.” Candidate Hillary Clinton and a host of “deep state” insiders advocated for support of the military coup in Honduras, a NATO coalition effort to topple the regime in Libya, the expansion of troops in Afghanistan, even stronger support of Israel, funding and training anti-government rebels in Syria and the overthrow of the elected government of Ukraine. As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton was a major advocate for humanitarian interventionist policies in the Obama administration.
Humanitarian interventionists have joined forces with “neoconservatives” in the new century to advocate policies that, they believe, would reverse the declining relative power of the United States. This coalition of foreign policy influentials has promoted a New Cold War against Russia and an Asian pivot to challenge the emerging multipolar world. The growing turmoil in the Middle East and the new rising powers in Eurasia also provide rationale for qualitative increases in military spending, enormous increases in research and development of new military technologies, and the reintroduction of ideologies that were current during the last century about mortal enemies and the inevitability of war.
The “elephant in the room” that pertained to the 2016 election was growing opposition to an activist United States economic/political/military role in the world. Many center/left Americans, to the extent that they were motivated by international issues, saw the Clinton foreign policy record as emblematic of the long history of United States imperialism. Further, given the fact that U.S. interventionism and support for neoliberalism have generated growing global opposition, many voters feared a possible Clinton presidency would extend foreign policies that have already created chaos and anger, particularly in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf.
Finally, to the extent that economics affected the electoral outcome (and the degree to which this is correct is being hotly debated), the neoliberal global agenda that has been enshrined in United States international economic policy since the 1970s, has had much to do with rising austerity, growing disparities of wealth and power, wage and income stagnation, and declining social safety nets at home as well. The Trans Pacific Partnership was both a possible reality and a metaphor for fifty years of failed international economic policy for American workers.
Since the election, foreign policy has become even more of an “elephant in the room” as millions of Americans struggle with the prospects of a devastatingly inhumane new administration (perhaps one that logically follows from the fifty year trajectory described above).
The Post-Election Narrative: Trump Won the Election Because of the Russians!
The Washington Post late Friday night published an explosive story that, in many ways, is classic American journalism of the worst sort: the key claims are based exclusively on the unverified assertions of anonymous officials, who in turn are disseminating their own claims about what the CIA purportedly believes, all based on evidence that remains completely secret. Glenn Greenwald, “Anonymous Leaks to the WashPost About the CIA’s Russia Beliefs Are No Substitute for Evidence,” The Intercept, 12/10/16.
The “liberal” cable news outlet MSNBC, print media, and social media went ballistic Friday night, December 9, over the release of a story in the “objective” Washington Post that the CIA had found a connection between Russian hackers, WikiLeaks, and the release of damaging stories about presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton.
Rachel Maddow was positively breathless as she reported the Post story which in effect explains the Clinton loss as a result of Russian interference. Weaving a yarn of conspiracy, Maddow also implicated the leadership of the Republican Party in Congress for opposing any investigation of the CIA warning before the elections. The Republican leader, Senator Mitch McConnell questioned the credibility and partisanship of the CIA claims about a Putin/Trump collaboration.
Maddow further linked the CIA claims that Russia used the distribution of hacked messages to embarrass candidate Hillary Clinton to Trump’s alleged close ties to Russia, his investments in the Russian energy industry, and rumors that the next Secretary of State would be an Exxon/Mobil CEO, whose corporation has close ties to Russia. (She correctly pointed out that if Russia had sided with the Clinton candidacy, the Republicans would have been outraged). Maddow, the Post, and many social media outlets have suggested that all this adds up to a severe constitutional crisis. A foreign nation, Russia, had interfered with free elections in American democracy. She implied that the U.S. would never engage in such conduct overseas nor should it accept outside interference in the electoral process at home.
The story was flawed from so many perspectives it was difficult to disentangle the real threats to American society.
First, the United States has been interfering in elections all across the globe at least since the onset of the Cold War. The same CIA that is the hero in this story created Christian Democratic parties in Europe shortly after World War Two to challenge the popularity of Communist parties across the continent. It was instrumental in creating and supporting virulently anti-Communist trade unions in Europe and Latin America. And it funded the development of a panoply of anti-Communist scholarly networks inspired by the Congress for Cultural Freedom. Some of the most revered scholars, writers, artists, were knowingly or unknowingly compromised by the CIA political agenda.
In recent times, anti-Communist and erratic Russia President Boris Yeltsin received aid and campaign advice from the Clinton Administration during the Russian leader’s 1996 run for reelection. Yeltsin was being challenged by candidates from Russian nationalist and Communist parties. The victory of either would have slowed or reversed the so-called “shock therapy” conversions from a state-directed to a neoliberal economy introduced by a compliant Yeltsin.
Of course, interference in the politics of other countries has been an unfortunate staple of United States foreign policy throughout the world, particularly in Latin America: Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and most recently, Honduras and Venezuela. These patterns of interference have not been merely gossipy stories leaked to the media but the funneling of money, sabotage, training and support of coup plotters, and other direct, physical forms of intervention.
As suggested above, inside the Beltway an influential group of foreign policy elites have been pressuring the Obama Administration to expand efforts to push back Russia, including undermining Vladimir Putin’s rule (Putin is no different a political dictator and supporter of crony capitalism than the earlier U.S. favorite Boris Yeltsin claimed Stephen Cohen, “CNN Gets Schooled by Stephen Cohen on DNC Hack, Trump-Putin Links, Video,” Russia Insider, Russia-insider.com August 1, 2016).
The United States and its NATO allies, violating promises from the 1990s, have been placing troops and bases in Poland and the Baltic states. The United States played a significant role in the campaign that led to the ouster of the elected leader of Ukraine (a plot organized by a neoconservative State Department ally of Hillary Clinton). In short, leading foreign policymakers have been lobbying for a New Cold War. And, the “liberal media” stereotype of an aging, macho, shirtless, dictator provides a superb visual image of the enemy. And to the contrary, candidate Trump hinted at the possibility of reducing tensions between the United States and Russia.
Further, the aforementioned media have assumed but not demonstrated in any way that the alleged Russian hacking and the use of WikiLeaks (an opponent believed inside the Beltway to be almost as nefarious as Putin) to publicize compromising e-mails determined the outcome of the elections. This is in juxtaposition to the electronic libraries of published articles seeking to explain the election outcomes.
Many election analyses have correctly highlighted factors shaping the election including such variables as class, race, region, anti-immigrant sentiments, voter suppression, and campaign tactics. “Fake News” (as opposed to the usual mainstream media distortions) is the latest variable added to the list of explanations. It is the case that the allegations of Russian hacking uncovered by the CIA months ago and resurfacing now is the Washington Post, MSNBC, USA Today, CNN version of “Fake News.”
In the post-election period serious reflection and debate about who won and lost, why, and what can progressives do to resist and reorganize has been overtaken by an old story about foreign intervention. The old spies who had deviously worked in factories and tried to organize unions, marched with civil rights activists, taught a different history in schools that touched on the massacre of Nation Americans, slavery, the lack of voting rights, and segregation, have been replaced by cyber spies: hackers who sit at computers anywhere around the world bent on destroying American democracy. And these hackers get their marching orders from, whom? The Russians! Foreign policy remains “the elephant in the room.” Progressives need to add it to strategizing about the future.
Harry Targ teaches United States foreign policy at Purdue University. He is a co-chair of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS) and blogs at www.heartlandradical.blogspot.com
CCDS Remembers Fidel Castro
We in the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS) join the majority of humanity to express our sorrow at the death of Fidel Castro, leader of the Cuban Revolution from 1953 until 2006. Fidel and his movement overthrew the rule of US big business in Cuba, and ended the exploitation and impoverishment of the Cuban people, achieving independence for the proud island nation 90 miles from our shores. This historic victory reverberated world-wide.
Many of the people’s of the Global South saw Fidel as an inspiration for their own struggles for liberation from colonialism and neo-colonialism. Those from the United States and Europe, and especially the youth from all classes and walks of life –Black, Latino, and white working-class youth and many young people with privilege, learned from Fidel that progressives must struggle to support human liberation everywhere.
After generations of extreme poverty and suffering for the Cuban people, Fidel Castro at the head of the Cuban Communist Party embarked on a hugely successful program to eradicate major diseases from Cuba and greatly improve the health and life expectancy of the Cuban people. From these achievements, Cuba has sent medical professionals abroad to treat and train people in developing countries, especially in the Global South. Fidel and the new revolutionary socialist Cuban government mobilized thousands of young people to eradicate illiteracy in Cuba, and create an educational system that is the envy of many countries around the world, and especially those struggling under the yoke of neo-colonialism, capitalism, and the capitalist-dominated global economy today. Fidel and his comrades also established programs to provide jobs and a basic level of economic security for the Cuban people. Cuba today is leading the world in assisting the development of worker-run cooperatives, enriching the development of socialism in Cuba and setting an example for others. Fidel and the Cuban government worked hard to meet the needs of and empower the Cuban people, while also extending a helping hand to millions of people around the world. All of this despite the brutal economic blockade imposed by the US for over a half a century, with the intent of strangling Cuba economically, and despite repeated failed attempts by the US to overthrow the Cuban government and to assassinate Fidel Castro.
Fidel was correct when he said: “I speak on behalf of the children of the world who do not have a piece of bread. I speak on behalf of the sick who have no medicine, of those whose rights to life and human dignity have been denied.”
We, along with millions of others world-wide, pledge ourselves to continue along the path initiated by the vision of Fidel Castro, to build a world of social and economic justice, and of socialism.
Viva Fidel Castro!
Four Articles Inviting Comments
CCDS members, along with the left and progressives generally, have been engaged in discussions about the recent presidential election and what it means for our political work for the next several years. The essays below are initial offerings in what should be an ongoing discussion. Please send us your writings about the election and how you see the future of the left and the progressive majority.
1. Sanders, Clinton and Trump – the Political Crisis of Neoliberalism
By Randy Shannon, National Coordinating Committee, CCDS,
Report to National Executive Committee of CCDS on the 2016 Election
November 16, 2106
(This report was fashioned to meet a ten minute spoken delivery limit.)
A New York Times analysis showed that the majority of voters whose income was less than $50k voted for Hillary Clinton. The majority of voters whose income was over $50K voted for Donald Trump. The electorate is defined as the body of persons entitled to vote in an election. 75% of the electorate gave up hope of changing the austerity regime of neoliberalism. They either did not vote for Clinton or refused to vote. Consent of the governed to the Wall Street leadership of the hegemonic bloc of capital – despite a $1 billion campaign war chest – has withered.
The Trump alternative was so repugnant that only 25% of the electorate voted for him. Thus there is an electoral mandate to reverse or reject the policy of neoliberal austerity; but there is not an electoral mandate to enact the far right policies identified with the racist obstructionist Republican Congress. This mandate was expressed in the Democratic primary vote for Sanders whose social democratic program and candidacy were nevertheless anathema to the hegemonic bloc of Wall Street banks.
The rejection of the austerity regime was also expressed in the success of all ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage. Some voter polls confirm this trend: 49% of voters cited “change” as the most important reason for their vote; of these, 85% voted for Trump. In MI and PA 50% said trade deals cost jobs; 60% of these voted for Trump.
The 2008 crash of the banks’ housing bubble accelerated the economy down the path of a deflationary crisis. Under Pres. Obama the central bank has managed the crisis for the oligarchs by using extraordinary monetary easing with zero interest and creation of money to prop up the Wall Street banks. Since 2008 the Fed Funds rate was slashed from 5.5% to 0% and the Fed’s balance sheet expanded from $870 billion in 2007 to over $4.5 trillion in 2014.
December 2015 saw the peak of the weak Fed induced economic recovery. For workers, most of whom never benefited from the recovery, the pace of economic decline has accelerated. On November 16th the NY Fed, in its monthly Empire Report, stated “employment counts and hours worked continued to decline.” A similar report of economic contraction was released by the Philadelphia Fed on November 17th. The current austerity regime offers low wage and unemployed workers no prospects, thus the Fight for $15 movement. More importantly those still employed are experiencing the slow motion economic implosion of the last 8 years.
Read more of this article »
To say that the results of the U.S. election has set the progressive movement back, that we underestimated the strength and unity of the racist, misogynistic, homophobic movement in this country, is simply to state the obvious. There must be a period of reflection and analysis that has already begun. But there must also be action to unite the progressive forces and repudiate the triumphant forces of hate.
The Committees of Correspondence has three characteristics that put us in a position to work towards that unity: our educational work, our activism and involvement in the various movements for progressive change throughout the country and our efforts at left unity. We must strengthen and deepen our efforts in these areas and continue to ensure that each area of our work cross over and informs the others.
Our excellent educational work must continue. We will be offering study of right-wing populism not just in the U.S. but in the world. our educational work will also address the causes, consequences, and impacts of neoliberalism on workers of all races, genders, and ethnicities.
There are many young people standing out and taking leadership to the struggle. who are full of a passion for justice. We’re in an excellent position to provide that education and leadership that we have gained through many years of experience with their passion and activism. as we have many members who are lifelong, experienced activists. Those activists are involved in many different struggles. We must renew our efforts to project a movement that is greater than the sum of these parts.
This period provides opportunities for joint action that we can participate in and help to lead. This should include efforts to reform the current political and electoral structures of our government. If there is one thing that this election showed was that the left and right desired a government cleansed of undemocratic processes that benefit the rich few over the majority. We need to increase our activism and support of inspiring social movements such as Standing Rock, Black lives Matter, Fight for 15 and support for immigrant rights.
Now more than ever it’s necessary for the various organizations on the left and independent activists to come together. Perhaps this setback will give us all a new humility that affirms that we need each other, that we must be unified in the face of a united reactionary opposition.
We hope you will join us on November 28th for this discussion: https://www.facebook.com/events/1866694753564812/
Labor Committee Resolution for CCDS Convention 2016
Defend and Strengthen Labor, and Build Social Justice Unionism
Whereas, the labor movement has been under an intensified attack for over 40 years by capital, causing great harm to workers, unions, the working class and society as a whole, resulting in loss of pay, benefits, working conditions and quality of life; and
Whereas, workers, their unions and their allies are resisting these attacks and making some advances, such as gains in the fight for $15, organizing the unorganized, and resisting cutbacks and austerity; and
Whereas, workers of color, women, youth and workers in the south often face the greatest discrimination, exploitation, and oppression; and
Whereas, global capitalism, led by US capital, is exploiting and oppressing the workers of the world; and
Whereas, trade unions and the broader labor movement has historically played a strategic role in advancing democracy, equality, social justice and peace in the country; and
Whereas, CCDS members, our supporters and other progressive labor activists can make a special contribution to strengthen the labor movement with our class analysis of capitalism, imperialism, racism, sexism, and other forms of exploitation and oppression, and our experience in the trade unions and broader working-class movements;
Therefore be it resolved, that the 8th National Convention of CCDS direct CCDS and specifically its Labor Committee to develop a plan to:
(1) help strengthen workers ability to fight more effectively to protect and advance worker’s pay, benefits, working conditions, quality of life, and the working-class as a whole, and rebuff attacks on workers by employers and the political right, using a broad array of tactics from shop floor actions, to strikes, boycotts, building community coalitions, education, political action and other strategies and tactics that are useful,
(2) help strengthen unions and other labor organizations to be more effective in day-to-day struggles by raising workers’ consciousness, from democratic union consciousness, to class consciousness, to socialist consciousness, which will strengthen the struggle against racism, sexism and all forms of discrimination to achieve social justice unionism,
(3) help workers and organized labor unite with other people’s movements, in the workplace, community, and in the political arena to build and strengthen the working-class and the Progressive Majority, to combat racism and white supremacy, sexism, and all forms of discrimination to advance the fight for social justice unionism, including fighting for single-payer health care, free education through college, climate justice, jobs programs, to oppose free trade agreements such as the TPP, and to develop labor’s independent political action, and that we give special attention to the struggles of workers of color, women, youth, workers in the south, and those workers and working-class persons who are among the most exploited and oppressed,
(4) help build solidarity with workers in other countries in the struggle against imperialism, neoliberalism and all forms of exploitation and oppression, and for peace,
(5) help build fully democratic unions and help CCDS members and other progressive and left workers win leadership through democratic processes in their unions and other workers’ organizations,
(6) help more politically advanced workers develop a socialist consciousness through education and activism that includes the organization of classes, forums and action campaigns, help build left forms in the labor movement that unites the many around a progressive program, and recruit politically advanced workers to the CCDS.
Submitted by the CCDS Labor Committee
Contact: Paul Krehbiel, Labor Committee co-chair (email@example.com)
[CCDS Members] CCDS 2016 National Convention Resolutions and Proposals
To CCDS members,
Below are the five resolutions and proposals received by the program committee for the CCDS national convention in July, as of June 5. Please consider and discuss them with other members and your local chapters and committees as appropriate. Any feedback may be sent to the convention program chair, Duncan McFarland, at firstname.lastname@example.org. More resolutions may be received and will be posted.
I hope to see you at the convention,
Duncan McFarland, Convention Program Committee Chair
o “Socialist Education Today,” submitted by Harry Targ, Indiana, and the CCDS Socialist Education Project
o “Advancing to Socialism through Substantive Democracy,” a strategy proposal submitted by Karl Kramer, northern California
o Resolution on Organizing submitted by Paul Krehbiel, southern California
o Resolution on opposing US imperialism and supporting international peace and solidarity, submitted by CCDS Peace and Solidarity Committee
o “Educating about Substantive Democracy through the vehicle of the Democracy Charter,” a program proposal submitted by Karl Kramer, northern California
I. SOCIALIST EDUCATION TODAY: a Project of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism / Draft Convention Resolution; submitted by Harry Targ and the Socialist Education Project
Context: CCDS, an organization with a long and honorable record in support of workers, people of color, and women, is now over twenty years old. It formed out of existing left and progressive organizations in the period after the collapse of Socialist states in the early 1990s. Its members have been involved in virtually every mass struggle since then. CCDS, like other left organizations, must continue to reassess its mission and role in the struggle for socialism based upon its talents and capacities for work.
Given its long history of activism, educational work, and its continuing contributions to building left unity and the progressive majority and with full recognition of reduced size be it resolved that:
1.CCDS continue as a left organization, maintain its issue committees, and work with others to to build the left and progressive majority, particularly working with our comrades in new younger political groupings. This work must be realistically crafted to our capabilities and talents.
2. CCDS prioritize a newly expanded Socialist Education Project. This project would utilize the skills and resources of its existing membership to address current issues, develop theory and articulate socialist pedagogical techniques. The SEP will sponsor online discussions and resources, and produce literature, visual aids, modules, and cultural products of value to those creating a socialism that both draws upon its history and is relevant to building a Twenty-First Century Socialism.
3.CCDS charge the Socialist Education Project committee with the task of reconstituting itself such that the various educational activities of the organization, current and future, are more effectively coordinated. The new SEP committee will report directly to the NCC as a priority.
Members who wish to participate in writing, electronic communication, constructing educational materials, developing materials to better understand specific issues, and/or outreach to other left groups and millennial organizations, should be encouraged to participate in SEP.
4.The Twenty-First Century Socialist Education Project should prioritize building left unity, networking with millennials, and developing materials relevant to the progressive majority.
In sum, The Twenty-First Century Socialist Education Project will develop materials that relate struggles today to the Marxist tradition, the history of Socialist movements, assessments of the strengths and weaknesses of prior Socialist regimes, and the understanding of the global political economy of finance capital.
Further, it will facilitate the deepening of our understanding of the centrality of the connections between class, race, and gender.
And, the education project will advance the study of historical and dialectical materialism, the role of spirituality in human development, and the connections between individuals, classes, nations, and the global system.
Finally, the project should contribute to the elimination of the fragmentation of the mass movement, advancing and linking together contemporary political activism around the Fight for $15, union organizing, immigrant rights, climate justice, anti-war, women’s reproductive choice, Black Lives Matter, and youth student debt. At the same time networking around education will encourage further left unity projects.
II. Advancing to Socialism through Substantive Democracy
a Strategy Proposal
Author: Karl Kramer
Committee: Northern California
Goal: to advance a revolutionary process to socialism by deepening democracy to achieve a substantive and transformative democracy
- to counter neoliberalism in the United States and around the world
- to reverse income inequality and wealth disparity
- to develop class consciousness among the people of the United States
- to promote the development of economic democracy and democracy in the workplace
- to defend the public sector as a socially-owned sector of the economy
- to combat racism, sexism and xenophobia as ideologies to push down wages and working conditions
- to fight militarism as a projection of imperial power to create areas of cheap labor and to steal resources
Proposal: CCDS will implement a strategy to develop a social movement that will have a clear class consciousness in the struggle to achieve a genuine democracy that will begin a transformative process leading to socialism. We will do so by fighting the neoliberal economic agenda, imperialism, war, poverty and racism. This strategy will have the following components:
- We will build unity between the working class, the middle classes of professionals and small businesses, and the African American, Latino, Asian and Pacific Islander and indigenous communities in a struggle against the monopolization of wealth and power in the hands of transnational corporations and the wealthy elite.
- We will work towards strengthening existing and building new relationships between progressive organizations that represent the sectors that are directly affected by exploitation and oppression.
- We will work on educating people to build the basis for a greater level of organization, that will then lead to realistic possibilities of mobilizing in a mass movement that can achieve substantial political and economic change.
Rationale: An effective organizational strategy requires the necessary work of providing political and economic education so that people have a clear vision of a better world, a class analysis of society and the class consciousness to know who are their allies across racial, ethnic and gender lines. Only through this type of radicalizing education can we develop the type of egalitarian and liberating organizations that will mobilize a mass movement of people to transform society. This proposal shifts the main emphasis of our work to focusing on the education that will lead to revolutionary organizing.
To be perfectly clear, this is not an educational process that forfeits taking action. This is an educational process that accompanies the battles against racism and police repression, the attacks on social programs, militarism, economic exploitation and the devastation of the environment.
This is an educational process that will build the basis for a five-point program to reverse income inequality and wealth disparity.
- Stopping the elimination of union and public sector jobs
We need to support the fast food workers and WalMart workers in their Fight for $15 and a Union. We need to strengthen the National Labor Relations Act and extend its protections to farm workers and domestic workers. Public sector workers who were laid-off in the 2008 recession have not been reinstated due to political reasons, not budgetary. Unemployed parents on public assistance are being used to do the work of civil service employees. The Republicans are trying to dismantle the U.S. Postal Service which has been a source of good-paying, union jobs with an integrated workforce.
- Ending the injustice of mass incarceration
We need to stop the incarceration of a large percentage of the population, particularly African Americans and Latinos, for the benefit of the prison industrial complex, the profiteering of private prisons and the exploitation of captive labor that averages 25 cents per hour. We need to end the life-time of employment discrimination against the formerly incarcerated that forces them into the lowest wage, dirtiest and most dangerous work.
- Fixing a broken immigration system
We must stop the repression by immigration authorities that is breaking up families and forcing people into the shadows. We must end the worksite enforcement of immigration law that makes workers feel vulnerable in asserting their workplace rights. We need to promote alternatives to comprehensive immigration reform, which trades some legalization for increased repression, such as the progressive legislative proposals of the Dignity Campaign (www.dignitycampaign.org).
- Fixing a broken welfare-to-work system
Across the country, parents are compelled to do degrading and menial work for their public assistance checks and food stamps. Once they reach their time limit on public assistance, they are forced to take whatever low-wage job they can find. We need to fight for a program that provides real job training that is a path to a living wage job. We need to fight for expanded public sector jobs that provide opportunities for permanent civil service positions for unemployed parents.
- Fixing the “free trade” regime
We need to expose the failed promises of NAFTA, CAFTA-DR and other free trade agreements that have led to job loss, decreased wages and worsening working conditions on both sides of the border. We need to stop the Trans Pacific Partnership in its scheme to create lower-wage areas than China in a spiral to the bottom. We need to build cross-border solidarity with workers in Mexico, Latin America, Africa and Asia. We need to promote “fair trade,” with real protections for workers and the environment, as an alternative. We need to resist the military build-up and aggression with which imperialism projects its military might to create and maintain cheap labor areas of the world and rob their resources.
III. CCDS 2016 Convention: Resolution on Organizing (draft)
Submitted by Paul Krehbiel, southern California
Whereas, CCDS membership is aging and shrinking, and
Whereas, If this is not corrected, CCDS will continue to shrink in size and will eventually lose its ability to remain a viable nationwide socialist organization, and
Whereas, we highly value the work of CCDS and the many unique contributions it has made over our 25 years and continues to make to all the people’s movements and organizations, including the movement for socialism, and
Whereas, we would like to see CCDS continue to make the greatest contributions possible to the people’s movements and organizations, and
Whereas, more members working on whatever CCDS chooses to work on will make a larger contribution than a smaller number of members,
Therefore, be it resolved, that CCDS shall establish an Organizing Committee whose chief goal will be to develop an Organizing Plan to recruit more members into CCDS, especially millennials, people of color, women, workers, students, and social justice activists, and will develop materials and propose organizational forms to the appropriate CCDS bodies to help achieve these goals.
IV. A Draft Resolution from the CCDS Peace and Solidarity Committee
RESPONDING TO IMPERIALIST PLANS FOR A TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY ‘NEW WORLD ORDER’ OF MORE VIOLENCE, DESTRUCTION OF THE ENVIRONMENT, AND HUMAN SUFFERING
For a look at the current justification of US foreign policy, we quote the Washington Post editorial of May 21, 2016:
HARDLY A day goes by without evidence that the liberal international order of the past seven decades is being eroded. China and Russia are attempting to fashion a world in their own illiberal image…This poses an enormous trial for the next U.S. president. We say trial because no matter who takes the Oval Office, it will demand courage and difficult decisions to save the liberal international order. As a new report from the Center for a New American Security points out, this order is worth saving, and it is worth reminding ourselves why: It generated unprecedented global prosperity, lifting billions of people out of poverty; democratic government, once rare, spread to more than 100 nations; and for seven decades there has been no cataclysmic war among the great powers. No wonder U.S. engagement with the world enjoyed a bipartisan consensus.
US imperialist policy elites have been divided between the pragmatists, who recognize some limitations to US power, and the hard right, who want to assert hegemony through military force. Pragmatists had some influence in the Obama administration, with reluctance to attack Syria and desire to deal with Iran and Cuba. However, the 2016 elections clearly show a consensus moving towards the the hard right in foreign policy.
The Washington Post editorial quoted above clearly articulates the dominant view envisioned by US foreign policy elites for the years ahead. It in effect constitutes a synthesis of the “neocon” and the “liberal interventionist” wings of the ruling class. In our judgment, with all our attention on primaries and elections, and different diversions, a New Cold War has started. Only this time it may have even greater consequences for global violence and devastation of the environment than the first one.
The Post vision of a New World Order built upon a reconstituted United States military and economic hegemony has been a central feature of policy-making at least since the end of World War II even though time after time it has suffered setbacks: from defeat in Vietnam, to radical decolonization across the Global South, and to the rise of new poles of power in Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and even Europe. And grassroots mass mobilizations against neo-liberal globalization and austerity policies have risen everywhere, even in the United States. The Washington Post calls for the mobilization of the same constellation of political forces, military resources, and concentrated wealth, that, if anything, is greater than at any time since the establishment of the US “permanent war economy” after the last World War.
Recent US diplomacy illustrates the application of the vision. President Obama remains committed to trade agreements that will open the doors in every country to penetration by the 200 corporations and banks that dominate the global economy. He continues to expand military expenditures and to authorize the development of new generations of nuclear weapons (at the same time as he visits the site of the dropping of the first atomic bomb at Hiroshima). He engages aggressively in words, deeds, and provocative military moves against Russia and China.
Also, he recently visited Cuba, proclaiming the willingness of the United States to help that country shift its economic model to “free market” capitalism and “democracy.” He then traveled to Argentina to give legitimacy to President Macri, recently elected advocate of that country’s return to the neo-liberal agenda. Meanwhile the United States encourages those who promote instability in Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Honduras and offers continuing support to the long-term violent politics of Colombia.
During the President’s visit to Vietnam, he declared an end to the longstanding US arms embargo against that country and warmly supports that country’s incorporation into the Trans Pacific Partnership. He hopes to construct a military coalition against China, even while criticizing Vietnam’s record on human rights. After Vietnam Obama is scheduled to travel to Hiroshima at a time when new militarist currents have become more popular in Japan and while US troops continue to engage in violent behavior against citizens of Okinawa, where the US has a military base. In addition, US naval vessels patrol the South China Sea.
These trips have been paralleled by the President’s historic trip to the Persian Gulf earlier this year, shoring up the ties with Saudi Arabia which have been a centerpiece of Middle East/Persian Gulf policy since President Roosevelt negotiated a permanent partnership with that country in the spring of 1945. President Obama has resumed a slow but steady escalation of “boots on the ground” in Iraq, continued support for rebels fighting ISIS and at the same time the government of Syria. And to carry out the mission of reconstituting US hegemony drone strikes and bombing missions target enemies in multiple countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
The increasing contradictions of finance and industrial capital grow on a worldwide basis and masses of people in many countries are standing up against the imposition of austerity policies. Also it is becoming clear that the natural environment is in peril. Powerful sectors of the economic and foreign policy establishment agree with the Washington Post calls for a return to the US global hegemonic policy of the last seventy years. The pursuit of global hegemony has benefited banks, multinational corporations, and the military-industrial complex while millions of people have died in wars.
Therefore, CCDS will work with the peace movement to oppose:
1. the renewal of an even more aggressive US imperial policy supported by an ever-expanding, huge military budget,
2. the expansion of new strategies and tactics of high-tech, covert warfare: deep-state decision-making and fomenting color revolutions, assassination by drones and special operations teams, economic sanctions and destabilization, electronic surveillance, cyberwar, full-spectrum dominance coordinated through joint operations command and space technology,
3. policies that escalate tensions with Russia and China including a trillion dollar nuclear weapons modernization program, the TPP and the TTIP,
4. efforts to undermine the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil and Ecuador and support for repression in Honduras,
5. US military penetration of Africa,
6. continued collaboration with Saudi Arabia and Israel, the main instruments of violence in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East.
CCDS also declares its continued support for:
1. the trend towards a multi-polar world and international instituions that support economic development, real democracy and human rights,
2. grassroots movements in the Global South and in Europe, including socialism,
3. solidarity with the struggles of the Palestinian people for equal rights, self-determination and Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions,
4. breaking up the military/industrial complex and building a movement of the progressive majority that connects peace with movements concerning climate change globally and for economic and social justice in the US.
V. Educating about Substantive Democracy through the vehicle of the Democracy Charter
a Program Proposal
Author: Karl Kramer
Committee: Northern California
Goal: to develop a deeper shared understanding of the struggle for democracy and how the Democracy Charter is a platform to moving forward towards substantive democracy
- to carry out and implement the strategy proposal “Advancing to Socialism through Substantive Democracy”
- to develop a shared vision of a better world of living wage jobs or a living income for all, affordable housing, universal health care, quality public education, progressive taxation of corporations and the wealthy, sustainable environment, and peace and self determination for all peoples of the world regardless of race, sex, sexual orientation or identity, or immigration status.
- build relationships and unity between organizations so that they get out of the silos of their single-issue campaigns and see the interconnectedness of issues
- develop cadre rooted in the theory of dialectical and historical materialism
- educate activists about the history of the struggle for democracy and how people of color have been central to that struggle and its intersectionality with today’s struggles
Rationale: We do not have a singular multi-issue movement in the United States but a multitude of movements, often single issue or representing a single group. While they may win momentary battles, by themselves they do not have the joined strength to achieve systemic political and economic change. We also have a low level of organization in the United States. Union density is headed to the single digits and there are no social and economic justice organizations that we can point to as mass organizations. The number and size of progressive organizations is decreasing.
To organize and mobilize a Movement with a capital M, we need to develop an educational program that will convince people that collective action can produce change and that a better world is possible. Only by providing a vision for the future will people be inspired to take action.
The Democracy Charter, penned by the iconic Civil Rights Movement figure Jack O’Dell, provides a vehicle to develop the grassroots organizing potential of activists, to help expand organizing of the rank-and-file base and to create the dialogue that builds relationships between organizations that leads to movement building. O’Dell saw the Democracy Charter as a work in progress that he put in the public domain, an evolving document that is meant to inspire discussion and amendments. The Democracy Charter is not a finished product but a tool to spark continuing discussion.
1. CCDS chapters or activists in different regions will in a very intentional manner determine who to approach to join a study discussion group on the Democracy Charter.
CCDS activists would look at what organizations represent people who are directly affected by exploitation and oppression, who are the social movement actors fighting racism and poverty and who are the activists in these organizations involved in grassroots organizing. CCDS activists would then look at which CCDS members have connections to these organizations and activists. In these discussions, CCDS members would decide who should approach activists in these groups to participate in a study discussion group.
- CCDS activists would meet one-on-one with the activists they identified as potential participants in a study discussion group.
CCDS activists would have face-to-face conversations with grassroots activists to identify what are their shared interests and explain how the study discussion group would expand their thinking through dialogue on those shared interests. CCDS would produce talking points to help CCDS activists describe the Democracy Charter.
- CCDS activists would conduct study discussion groups on the Democracy Charter.
CCDS would produce discussion guidelines for the study groups. The study discussion groups also would be train-the-trainer sessions to develop participants to hold study discussion groups among members of their organization or as part of their grassroots organizing.
- CCDS activists would identify participants in the study discussion groups who wish to continue in a longer study discussion group “Long March for Democracy.”
In the “Long March for Democracy” study discussion groups, facilitators would lead a discussion of the organizing framework and study guide “The Struggle for a Substantive Democracy,” compiled by Tim Johnson, a historian, librarian and Marxist theoretician. Other materials that could be incorporated in the sessions are Zach Robinson’s DVD project on the Community Manifesto and the curriculum on the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights developed by Carl Davidson, Randy and Tina Shannon. There could be discussion sessions on Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 2nd Bill of Rights.
- CCDS activists would identify participants willing and interested in a regional Congress of the People.
CCDS activists would follow up with the facilitators of study discussion groups to identify participants to request to be involved in organizing a regional gathering. The organizing committee would include activists from organizations of strategic importance who particularly would invite members of their organizations to develop base-to-base relations between groups. The Congress of the People would include workshops on the sections of the Democracy Charter and then a plenary session to share, and possibly vote on, proposed changes to the Democracy Charter. The proposed changes and additions from each region could be shared on an existing website for the Democracy Charter www.democracycharter.org. The Congress of the People also would develop a People’s Platform of measures and actions to take on a federal, state and local level
CHICAGO, IL – MARCH 11: Protesters rally outside of the University of Illinois at Chicago Pavilion where Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is due to speak at a campaign rally March 11, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The rally was later cancelled for safety concerns. (Photo by Jonathan Gibby/Getty Images)
Challenging White Supremacy is Critical to Efforts for Transformative Change
By Meta Van Sickle, Carla F Wallace, and Janet Tucker
There is a battle going on for the hearts, minds, bodies and votes of white people in this country, and both direct and indirect appeals to racism are part of an old strategy with new legs.
Trump’s message of hate, islamophobia, racism and division, his calls for outright violence against protestors in his rallies and his strategies of wall-building and deportation are gaining more traction than most people who care deeply about these issues ever thought it would. All over the country, white people are flocking to hear Trump; lining up for hours in big and small towns around the country to get into his rallies. Many of these people are poor and working class white people. Union leaders are warning that his targeting of white working people is working, and the demographic studies of Trump supporters bear them out.
While too many in the white left and too many white progressives hesitate to take on our responsibility for organizing white people for racial justice, corporate America is taking the race based class divisions all the way to the bank, and creating a country in which people of color are seen as ever more expendable.
A recent New York Times article documents the demographic breakdown of Trump supporters. The strongest indicator is a white person who has not finished high school, has no work, and has given up looking for it. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/13/upshot/the-geography-of-trumpism.html?smprod=nytcore-iphone&smid=nytcore-iphone-share&_r=0
According to liberals, many progressives, and the mainstream media, you would think that we have a phenomena of poor and working class white people as hopeless bigots. You would think that racism was invented by poor and working class white people, and that this is who is sustaining systemic racism and white supremacy throughout our country and in our country’s relationship to the world. Over and over we hear, “It’s those uneducated rednecks”, and wash our hands of the responsibility to do more than blame from the sidelines as muslims, Black and Brown people, and immigrants bear the brunt of the dangerous winds of racialized hate blowing across our land.
In his important article, Donald Trump is Dangerous, The Nation’s John Nichols points out that Trump is speaking to working class anxiety more effectively and powerfully than mainstream democrats. “This country is dying,” says Trump. “And our workers are losing their jobs”. Trump goes on to decry trade pacts, and threaten to tax corporations if they continue to move jobs out of the country. Nichols quotes AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka who tells him that his workers are talking to him about Trump, and Service Employees International Union president Mary Kay Henry who cautions that the Trump message is so on target for white workers that he could win enough union votes, and even the presidency with his message to hurting white workers.
Instead of addressing the concerns of poor and working families, front and center, Washington talks about the economic “recovery”, “revitalized” manufacturing and “progress” on clean energy. Meanwhile, there continue to be urban centers where unemployment runs close to 50 percent among young Black men, and rural poverty that promises to keep several generations from providing enough for families to get by. What has been left of the safety net is being shredded further everywhere you look. A recent example under the republican governor of Kentucky, is the choice between canceling Family Court or Drug Court because budget cuts do not allow for keeping both.
There is a reason that the Trump rhetoric resonates and it is not only because it caters to racism and blames people of color. Trump is playing to the deep seated insecurity and material hardships that white working class and low income people are experiencing due to the failure of this economic system. And yes, he is wrapping this in attacks on people of color. His message is racist, and it only leads to a working class further divided along racial lines and unable to grow the people power needed for real change that benefits all of us.
This racist agenda and this divided working class is taking a toll on white workers in many ways. A recent study shows that the only demographic whose mortality rate is rising, is white workers. The causes of death are disproportionately from alcohol, drug addiction, and suicide. Despite the rhetoric about an economic recovery, and despite the “buffer” of race afforded white workers, working people are facing the direct impact of capitalism in decline, and are literally dying from it. While institutional racism ensures that people of color, in particular Black people, bear the brunt of the oppression, white workers as well, have lost the hope that they can provide a better future for their children. Unlike people of color, many of whom as Audre Lorde wrote knew they were “never meant to survive,” poor and working class whites thought that they were.
A snapshot of parts of the South is particularly helpful in this regard. While people of color are bearing the overwhelming impact of the continuing recession, working class people of all colors are facing cutbacks in basic services, loss of jobs, and lowering or stagnant wages.New industries may be moving to South Carolina for example, but their reasons for doing so have nothing to do with a growing economic health of the area. Quite the opposite. These industries are moving there because they are paying little or no state or local taxes and wages far lower than in their sister plants in other locations in the country. (Charleston Central Labor Council, Personal Communication) Corporate welfare and low wages limit the public sector ability to deliver in several ways, from the underfunding and unfunding of public education, to the poorly maintained infrastructure such as roads and bridges, lack of access to affordable health care and so on.
If we are to counter the use of bigotry to divert people from the failures of capitalism or to seduce white people falling out of the economy into the lure of having their own strongman, those of us who are white need to step up to our responsibility to do the work with other white people around racial justice. We need to be connecting with other working class and poor white people, our families, our neighbors, our co workers, who need a system that works for the many, not just the few. In this moment, we must move from blaming and shaming poor and working class white people, or avoiding the urgency of challenging white supremacy, and take up the work of lifting up the mutual interest we have in an America that provides for the basic human needs of all people AND is anchored in an unapologetic commitment to racial justice.
Part of our work must be to shine a light on those examples of white working class people joining with people of color for a mutual interest agenda that benefits all. Robin Kelley’s brilliant book, Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression, notes stories in the 1930’s of cross race, class conscious workers struggles against barriers to voting rights for poor people in rural areas. There are many examples of cross race class solidarity from the coal mines in Appalachia. In July of 1891 over 1,500 miners freed prisoners in the shadow of Tennessee Coal and Iron Company. The Chattanooga Federation of Trades reported that “whites and Negroes are standing shoulder to shoulder” and armed with 840 rifles. Black and white workers joined together in the Paint Creek Cabin strike of 1913-14, and in many battles against King Coal in the decades to follow.
More recently, outside the Louisville Convention Center in Kentucky on March 1, 2016 thousands of white people, many of them working class, lined up to hear Donald Trump deride big government and its elite corporate allies. Promising to “make America great again” his increasingly popular message is wrapped in blaming the nation’s woes on immigrants, “freeloaders” and other barely coded language for people of color. But also there were members of Louisville Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), part of a national network dedicated to organizing white people in effective, accountable relationship with people of color led struggles engaged not only in disrupting the Trump gathering on the inside, but also engaging on the outside. This included connecting with some in the Trump crowd around our mutual interest in an economy that works for all of us, and that we can win if white and people of color join together.In one conversation, a white worker at the Trump rally said that he thought one of the problems with so many Black people being put in prison is that so many of the judges are rich and white. In that brief exchange is the possibility of shifting the blame from people of color to the elites on both side of the political aisle who have failed to address the growing economic divide between rich and poor and the increasing impoverishment of the US poor and working class. Rather than blaming white workers for their fear and anxiety, SURJ frames racial justice as being in the mutual interest of ALL workers, and urges unity across racial lines as the only way to win the jobs, housing, health care, clean environment and dignity we all want and need.
Too often, rural people, many of whom are working class whites, are broad brushed as being the breeding ground of right wing militia. However, the leaders of much of this activity are far better off economically than those they seek to engage. In rural Oregon, over 350 mostly rural people came together outside Burns to say no to the militias holed up in the federal wildlife sanctuary. Supported by efforts of the Rural Organizing Project, the gathering exposed the lie that big city dwellers often have about low income rural white people going along with, or worse instigating right wing, racist militia mobilizations.
Charleston Area Justice Ministries (CAJM) is an example of the work that is possible when we focus on the stake that both white and people of color have in racial justice. In work on the intersections between racism, gun violence prevention and police preemptive stop reduction activities, the group has exposed the disproportionate targeting of people of color communities by police. CAJM has researched the number of “pretext” police stops across the police departments in the state. The North Charleston police department made over 130,000 such stops last year. Seventy percent of the stops were of African American drivers though the African American population is only forty two percent.
The CAJM group is now in the process of inviting the two cities mayors and police chiefs into a conversation about these police procedures in the presence of over hundreds and hundreds of concerned community members. The group is calling for a commitment to reduce the number of pretext stops, an outside auditor to review the stops and better community policing practices. A mutual interest narrative can address the reality of police oppression in Black communities and changes that will make ALL communities more safe.
The center point of right wing populism is white supremacy and the use of racism to blame people of color for the woes of white working people. Linda Alcoff, in her book, “The Future of Whiteness”, explains that white liberals “remain uncomfortable in broaching the topic (of race), while white conservatives generally try to disguise their racial references, though the disguise is often so ineffective as to be a joke (Alcoff, 2015, p. SSS).
Too many efforts among white liberals and the white left have either fallen into the mistake of avoiding the issue of race as divisive to class unity, or spoken of a “white privilege” few struggling white workers can identify with. The first approach maintains the fertile ground for appeals to racism, the second erases the class differences in how white people of wealth and white workers experience their whiteness. Both continue the strategic errors in our efforts to build working class unity on a basis of shared needs, hopes, and a commitment to racial justice.
Lee Atwater, in his book Bad Boy, aptly describes how the right wing politicians are using “wedge” issues to divide and conquer the voting population. One such current wedge is the narrow and inaccurate portrayal of the Democratic Party as being anti-police. While those of us engaged in challenging police abuse see this suggestion as laughable, white voters who have already bought into the idea that police terror in Black communities and the killings of Black people is reasonable and appropriate are shunning Democratic candidates as anti police. In North Charleston, SC the police shooting of Walter Scott was greeted by at least three popular responses, some of which were only voiced in cloistered spaces: 1) outrage at the police violence, 2) outrage that there was outrage at the shooting (Scott deserved it and the video taper should have been shot too), and 3) indifference.
A mutual interest framework that focuses on the stake that both working class white people and people of color have in accountable policing, jobs, housing, healthcare and other basic necessities, and the humanity that anchors us to one another, can grow the unity to challenge Trumpism, Wall Street, crazy Cruz Republicans, and the divisions that keep us from the transformative changes we all need.
We must be willing to talk about how race is being used to divide working people, and who benefits when we are divided. But most important, we must move beyond talking about this with one another, and take a mutual interest narrative that centers racial justice, into the neighborhoods, workplaces and families in which we live, work and love.In particular, white people on the left who are serious about challenging capitalism, must heed the call made over a half century ago by our sisters and brothers of color in SNCC, and our comrades in the Black Panthers, for white people to “organize our own”.In the words of SNCC leader Stokely Carmichael, “One of the most disturbing things about almost all the white supporters of the movement has been that they are afraid to go into their own communities–which is where the racism exists-and work to get rid of it.” Those of us who are white must learn how to speak about white supremacy, and how it is hurting all of us, in white communities.
Inspired by the movement for Black lives, by Black youth taking to the streets at great risk to challenge police abuse, by undocumented Latino youth calling for immigration reform, the largely people of color base of the Fight for $15, and indigenous leadership in the anti pipeline environmental struggle, more and more white people are asking what they can do about racism. And they are struggling to understand what racial justice has to do with their own liberation. This development provides an opening for white progressives and the left to take up our responsibility to organize white people for racial justice as part of an ever growing multiracial movement for transformative change.
This moment is ripe with opportunities to do this work, and burdened with dangers if we do not. One example of a broad based effort organizing white working people for racial justice is the national SURJ network. Moving with a mutual interest framework (that what we all need to live in dignity and have our needs met, is bound up in the struggle for racial justice, and that appeals to racism only benefit those in power) SURJ has a focus on the critical role of the south, and on white working class and poor people, including rural, youth, LGBTQ and disabled people.
Black Lives Matter founder Alicia Garza says that white people need to break white silence, challenge white supremacy and create a pole to which other white people can gravitate. Providing a response to the call from the movement for Black lives to mobilize hundreds of thousands of white people in effective, accountable action with people of color led struggles, there are now chapters of SURJ all over the country (140 and more each month in cities big and small and rural areas). People wanting to do this work get help from the national network in setting up a SURJ Chapter, with resources and organizing training to help them move forward.
If we are to counter the hate and divide messages that are directed at the fears and real life struggles of white working class and poor people, white progressives and those on the left need to get out of our “comfort zones” and use our voices and bodies to say no to white supremacy. We must organize white people to stand with people of color, for communities that work for all of us.
Rather than wringing hands over what is to be done, Louisville SURJ goes door to door in white working class neighborhoods talking about how police are targeting Black communities and why the divisions between white and Black workers keep all of us from winning the change we need to provide for our families. In a recent afternoon of conversations with over 120 white families, over 60 agreed to take a Black Lives Matter yard sign in their yard.
As white southern civil rights activist Anne Braden told us years ago, “The battle is and always has been a battle for the hearts and minds of white people in this country. The fight against racism is our issue. It’s not something that we’re called on to help people of color with. We need to become involved with it as if our lives depended on it because really, in truth, they do.”
As Alcoff notes, “…pessimism breeds the fatalism that excuses inaction and complicity.” Whether it is organizing with SURJ, or working with existing campaigns and organizations like the Sanders campaign, a local union drive or other efforts, we can be part of bringing hundreds of thousands of white working people into motion for an agenda that challenges corporate greed, undermines patriarchy, ends war and demands racial justice. Both the today and the tomorrow of every one of us demands no less.
The Topic of Spirituality in a Left Education.
by Tony Kaliss
The purpose of this paper is to suggest that spirituality is the critical factor in determining how humans will act in the real world, and, therefore, spirituality must be a critical factor in a socialist education. However, the Left, especially the Marxist Left, has had an especially difficult time dealing with the nature of spirituality. I suggest not understanding spirituality has much to do with the systemic failure of the European Left to establish a working socialist system and the Left’s fragmentation and marginalization.
In focusing on spirituality I’m in no way downplaying other essential topics of a socialist education. But as a critically important factor in human behavior it has been overlooked and needs recognition of its role in regard to all the topics.
Participation in the Socialist Education Project of the CCDS encouraged me to get my thinking down as follows below. Also, a while back I did prepare a paper exploring the relationship of the Left and spirituality generally (see below for a link).
Nature and function of Spirituality
Socialism and Communism—one meaning of “-ism” at the end of an English word means a belief in what precedes the “-ism”. An “-ist” is an individual who shares a particular “-ism”. What humans believe at a given time is fundamental to what they will actually do. The belief in the “social” and the “communal” has been the fundamental motivator in my life’s activity for over 55 years. Facts, real or imagined, may be used to support a belief, but my basic point is that belief, not the facts, is the actual motivator.
Belief, however, is only one expression of something fundamental to human behavior namely Spirituality. Spirituality is the filter through which all that exists outside us reaches the inside Certainly there is an “objective” reality, a material base, outside us but that reality reaches us humans only through the filter of our spirituality. Therefore, for humans, spirituality is every bit as important as the material base for understanding what motivates and changes people’s real actual behavior.
Spirituality includes a complex of emotions, feelings and intuitive reactions that are experienced as a combination of mental and physical interactions. The overall spiritual orientation or reaction may be influenced by observations about events, observations that may be factually right or wrong. But spirituality itself does factually exist and is fundamental to human motivation. In other words, what a person believes to exist in their imagination may not exist in fact but because that spiritual belief becomes the basis for behavior in the real world, spirituality becomes a very real factor in that real world.
For example, what counts is not the factual possibility to obtain an aerial view of Santa Claus’ workshop at the North Pole, but how the story of Santa Claus influences the spiritual reaction about gift giving which can and does affect the facts of human behavior.
The spiritual is very practical. Not only is it fundamental to human motivations, it is the factor that unites mind and body. Feelings of connection or disconnection have profound influences on the very chemistry of the brain and body. It has been shown, for example, how feelings of stress affect us down to the cellular level. Overthrow capitalism for the sake of your cellular health.
Therefore a socialist education must include the study and understanding of the role of the spirituality that is at the core of a belief in Social-ism and Commun(e)-ism. By the same reasoning it is equally important to understand the nature of spiritual beliefs opposing socialism and communism.
A socialist education process that recognizes the reality of spirituality and the very real practical effects of spirituality is an education that provides a basis for a much deeper, broader, more flexible understanding of today’s complex globalized world. Indeed, in today’s world a broader approach is needed than the usual focus on the facts of why capitalism needs to be replaced by socialism.
Focusing on the role of spirituality is in no way meant to ignore or down play the role of the facts about socialism, capitalism or any other social (or natural) phenomena. Indeed, as noted, spirituality has a factual existence of its own.
However, the Left generally and the Marxist left in particular, has a special problem in regard to spirituality because the Left’s assumption that the material base is fundamental to human motivation has been interpreted to deemphasize the role of spirituality. Additionally, there is a strongly held chain of beliefs that equates spirituality with religion which, in turn, is seen as a belief in a God or spirits which don’t exist, and, even worse, religion is often used as a tool of oppression. This logic can lead to a very negative view of spirituality and certainly to an inadequate understanding of its nature and function. My point is that religion is one of the possible expressions of spirituality not the other way round.
The Left’s difficulty in dealing with the subject of spirituality is confounded by the fact that part of the Left’s positions concerning it are themselves beliefs that operate at the spiritual level. Beliefs, as an expression of the spiritual, are very strongly held and can operate at both the conscious and unconscious levels, So a strongly held belief that spirituality is about something that doesn’t exist or is something apart from the material base is a belief that can make it difficult to see that the issue even exists or that it is an issue that needs to be considered.
I suggest that the difficulty in dealing with spirituality is a direct result of the historical context the European Left developed in. I suggest this is at the core of the failure of European-based Left theories and practice in the socialist countries and the divisions and marginalization of the Left in the present day. Moreover, the difficulty that the Left has in dealing with the spiritual factor, is at the core of why the Left’s explanations of what happened to the European left remain very incomplete and shallow. .
A Socialist education framework generally.
Humans are all about relationships. The most fundamental relationships are those between the human mind and body, between humans, and between humans and the environment around them.
An effective socialist education framework needs to focus on those relationships and must include the spiritual dynamic by which humans come to see and understand those relationships. In other words, there is both the practical objective reality of those relationships and the spiritual processes by which humans come to understand and, most importantly, act in regard to those relationships.
The essential question for humans is what kind of life do you want to live? This raises the related questions of what kind of life are you living now, and how do you continue or achieve the kind of life you would like to live. These are at the same time both spiritual and practical questions. They are the basis of moral practices–for the better or the worse.
Fifty years of work on issues between Native peoples and non-Natives, most especially of European origin, led to the following model of their interaction which I believe has wider application as a model of two fundamentally opposed spiritual/practical ways of life.
I wanted a model that was concise but from which complexity can be spun out, and I wanted the terms of that model to combine the practical and the spiritual in the sense that the terms could be factually examined but at the same time represent a spiritual approach to those facts.
The model is as follows:
Sharing ←vs.→ Taking Without Giving (TWG)
Connection ←vs.→ Disconnection
Harmony ←vs.→ Disharmony
I believe that one of the greatest strengths of this model is that it allows an approach to all aspects of the complexity of today’s globalized world. I mean this in two regards. One is that this model can be applied to all aspects of human relationships, individual, social, political, religious, economic, environmental and so on. Second, in as much as we live in a globalized world we cannot avoid dealing with complex social-economic relationships that take forms that go beyond the borders of one country and beyond the dichotomy, as important as it is, between capitalism and socialism.
Because the model applies to all aspects of human relationships it can also show how those relationships are themselves interrelated. The individual is indeed political and vice versa. Relationships among humans cannot be separated from human relationships with the environment. One of the major failures in the socialist countries has been the failure to recognize and understand that all these relationships are interrelated. The successful construction of a socialist economy, for example, cannot be separate from the nature of the relationships between male and female, from the relationship of humans with the environment, or the relationship of the ruling Party to the people regarding human and democratic rights.
In today’s world a focus on just socialism versus capitalism is much too narrow. It provides no way to understand what is happening in China or India or the corruption that is the basis of social-economic situations in a number of countries. Even in the countries that are distinctly capitalist we need the flexibility to present the situation as it actually looks and feels to people in each specific country and situation.
Some comments on the model above.
I described this model in some detail as applied to the Native-European interaction in a conference presentation a couple of years ago, and then made use of it in the paper on the Left and spirituality mentioned above. Both are available from the links below.
But a few explanatory comments should be made here. First, by European I refer to Europeans and their descendents—Russian, English, Spanish, Euro-American, Euro-Australian, etc. Second, the arrows are meant to indicate the dynamic interaction vertically and horizontally of the components of the model. Horizontally the two sides represent fundamentally opposite ways of relating, factually and spiritually, whether it be of individuals or social systems, political parties or religions, or Natives and Europeans. Vertically, each side is an interrelation of three factors. Sharing is based on a recognition of Connection and both practiced together lead to Harmony.
Lastly, concerning Natives and Europeans, I am in no way suggesting that on one side we have noble Natives who share everything, and, on the other, savage Europeans who take everything. On both sides there are those who do not share the overall ethic.
Five specific education topics
The role of spirituality needs to be a major component of all our presentations in the sense that all the subject matters in one way or another are involved with the relationships between the human mind and body, between humans, and/or between humans and the environment. An excellent example is the subject matter of racism and sexism which cannot be separate from how these issues are experienced at a spiritual level. Another is that climate change is really about human change in regard to the three relationships. The five specific topics below can be addressed in a variety of formats–courses, workshops, readings, internet discussions, etc.
Topic 1. The nature of spirituality
Main purpose is to show how human spirituality functions as the medium though which humans come to be aware of, to understand, and, most importantly, to act in regard to the three fundamental interactions humans deal with as noted above. Of course, all three of these interactions are interrelated and influence each other.
There are a multitude of real life interesting and important examples that can explored. Example is how taking without giving (TWG) versus sharing have very different spiritual effects that affect the physical body down to the cellular level which, in turn, influences the spiritual state of mind.
Based on this understanding, explore some of the ways that humans have made use, deliberately and consciously or not, of specific actions and/or arguments aimed at influencing the spiritual state of mind in order to get individuals or groups of people to act in certain ways. For most Native peoples the use of ceremonies, stories, vision quests, dance and song all have the very deliberate purpose of influencing people at the spiritual level to act in desired ways.
How to use the framework of spirituality in general and my model in particular to gain a greater awareness of what is happening in a globalized world and how it relates to particular local concerns. It is impossible for one person or one movement to address all the issues and it is true that real change must begin in one’s own back yard. But it is essential while working on the local to understand how this affects and is affected by what is happening globally.
Explore how and why the Left has had such difficulty in dealing with spirituality. There are two reasons for this difficulty which would need to be explored in some detail. This is a subject that also must be addressed in topics 3 and 4 below.
One is that the Left confused spirituality with religion and since organized religion has often been used to support the TWG of the ruling class spirituality got tossed out, downplayed, or just plain got a bad rap as being part of something that was being used to confuse ordinary people and to blind them to the facts of an oppressive system.
The second reason flows from the Left’s, and especially the “scientifically” based Left, acceptance of a fundamental assumption of the European knowledge system known as Science that it can deal objectively with the facts of reality and that this ability allows it to know the truth which makes it the most advanced and, therefore, most superior of all human knowledge systems.
That fundamental assumption and the notion of superiority that goes with it have far more to do with the goals of the upcoming Capitalist system which wanted great quantities of facts about the real world to better practice TWG apart from any concerns with ethical or spiritual ramifications of what they were doing with those facts, and which necessarily saw itself and its viewpoints as superior in every way as justification for TWG.
Topic 2 Racism, sexism ,ethnicity. and belief systems
In today’s world these topics are of great importance in how humans relate to each other personally and politically. Spirituality plays a vital and critical role in regard to these topics. There is, a wealth of examples to draw from world wide.
The stress here is not so much on the details of how issues of racism, sexism and/or ethnicity and beliefs show themselves. Rather it is on how people, individually or in groups, react to and understand these issues. In the U.S. the right wing has been much more aware than the left of the importance of spirituality in influencing people’s views on these issues. On the other hand, spirituality was and remains a fundamental motivating force in the Civil Rights movement.
Topic 3. The failure of the European-left to build lasting mass movements in general and the critical failure in the building of a socialist alternative in specific countries.
This is an absolutely fundamental and critical issue that has been avoided, shallowly understood and not deeply investigated. Yet it is critical for the future of the Left. To put it plainly–if you’re so smart why ain’t you rich? Why should people now believe the Left or its analyses considering these failures?
I suggest these failures are directly related to the failure to understand the nature and role of spirituality because the failures have their roots at the spiritual level. In other words, if the role of spirituality is not understood then the centrality of its role in the failures cannot be understood.
This discussion includes not only what happened in the former European socialist counties but also what is happening in those that still claim to be socialist.
The flip side of this topic is how, after understanding the failures, does the Left build lasting, broad and influential movements that do recognize the role of spirituality.
This overlaps with Topics 1 and 4.
Topic 4. Marxist philosophy generally and its application to the understanding of the evolution of human history.
A focus here is on how Marxist philosophy has up to now and should in the future deal with the nature and role of human spirituality.
Fifty-five years of political activity still leave me feeling that the fundamentals of Marxist philosophy remain the most valid and useful approach to understanding the processes of the universe both human and otherwise. That includes the nature and role of spirituality.
However, a valid approach does not mean every application of Marxist dialectics to specific processes is correct. There’s the broad but true generality that the universe is infinite and human knowledge is always finite which means our understanding of specific processes are always subject to correction. In particular, there are several areas of critical importance where Marxist analysis has been incomplete or in error.
One serious lack of understanding concerns how the notion of the material base, as the determining factor in human behavior, was applied in a way that is fundamentally flawed regarding the role of spirituality. Another is the assumption of European superiority that has accompanied the notion of progressive stages of history.
The third, is the idea that the European belief system known as Science is the most superior viewpoint for knowing the world based on the idea that it is possible for humans to deal objectively with the facts of the real world and in so doing becomes the one worldview that can really know truth.
Spirituality. One sign of the Left’s difficulty with spirituality is that it is hard to pin down precisely how it is understood. But it is clear that the Left has tended to see spirituality as something distinct from the material base and, in a sense, opposed to it in that spirituality is seen as preventing people from seeing the real facts of the material base. As I suggest above, we need to show how spirituality is not only part of the material base but that it is an essential part in that it concerns how humans do understand the facts.
European superiority. This must include challenging and changing the notion that Europeans are the most advanced people when it comes to progress towards a human society based on sharing, connection and harmony. There is significant and interesting debate on how (or if) Marx and Engels changed over time on this issue.
But there is no question that subsequent Marxist movements have held a stages of history model in which Europe ends up as the most advanced stage of history, the European working class as the most advanced social force in that stage, and the Communist party as the most advanced representative of the most advanced social class.
This assumption of European superiority is actually a spiritually based belief that the Left inherited from European history. It has led to deadly contradictions and enormous harm. It is seen in everything from how the ruling Parties treated critics, to the treatment of the environment, and, as I have seen from many years of work with Native peoples, to an attitude of superiority from the Left that has been very harmful to Native peoples.
Science, objectivity and superiority. I commented on this above but it should also be noted that the idea that it was possible for humans to know the world objectively led to the belief that European Science was the most superior worldview for knowing the world, which logically led to the conclusion that European Science had the truth and, finally, to extremely destructive arguments about which Left group has the true scientific analysis and therefore knows the real truth. Interestingly, these quarrels have all the flavor of holders of strongly held spiritual beliefs who feel their beliefs as being challenged. This remains an ongoing problem in bringing about a working Left unity. A problem, I suggest, whose dynamic can only be understood by understanding the operation of spirituality.
Topic 5. The nature and operation of the capitalist, socialist and communist social-economic systems.
It is essential that this include as a major component how working people (and also the ruling class) have reacted spiritually to the facts of these systems. Needs to deal with the diverse ways in which TWG actually works in the wide variety of situations world wide, and the equally diverse ways that the people (and the environment) being taken from react to oppose the TWG.
The actual workings of the various social-economic processes in today’s globalized and inter-active world vary greatly. The basics of the capitalist versus socialist social economic systems as they are usually presented while true often do not take into account the very different and complex ways that processes of sharing versus TWG are actually taking place in countries as varied as the United States or China.
The spiritual factor concerns the ways in which these varied processes are perceived, felt and understood by the different social-economic groupings Again, there’s a world’s worth of interesting and important examples of these processes.
The social-economic systems of the world’s Indigenous peoples must be included. Marxist analysis has tended to ignore them due to viewing them as “primitive” communists or just plain backward unscientific peoples who needed the guidance of advanced European Communists (as I saw for myself in the former USSR).
In fact, the worldwide experience over centuries of time that Native peoples have had in making use of spirituality as a factor in maintaining a viable working model of a sharing society is of vital importance to the discussion of building such a society in today’s world on both practical and spiritual levels.
Follow-up. I consider the above as a work in progress and so welcome comments, suggestions, corrections, etc. I can be reached at email@example.com.
Download links for papers:
The Left and Spirituality—A Practical Question: https://www.dropbox.com/s/to3q0htqmqldnnz/Kaliss-Left%26Spirituality%2012-18-2014.pdf?dl=0
From the Practical to the Spiritual and Back: A Model for the Interaction of European and Native Societies:
Saturday, February 6, 2016
SEIZE THE MOMENT: BERNIE SANDERS AND BUILDING THE PROGRESSIVE MAJORITY
The multiracial working class in alliance with trade unions, women, African Americans, Latinos and other people of color, youth, and progressive sectors of business now form the promising components of the progressive majority. The profound challenge before the working class and its allies is to organize this majority into a coherent force capable of responding to the various issues it confronts. (“Goals and Principles,” Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, adopted at its 6th National Convention, July, 2009, www.cc-ds.org).
Protest Movements in the United States
In addition to anecdotal evidence, aggregate data confirms the continuation and expansion of activist groups and protest activities all across the face of the globe. For example in the United States, Mark Solomon in an important essay “Whither the Socialist Left? Thinking the ‘Unthinkable’” (March 6, 2013, www.portside.org) discusses the long history of socialism in the United States, the brutal repression against it, damaging sectarian battles on the left, the miniscule size of socialist organizations today and yet paradoxically the growing sympathy for the idea of socialism among Americans, particularly young people. He calls for “the convergence of socialist organizations committed to non-sectarian democratic struggle, engagement with mass movements, and open debate in search of effective responses to present crises and to projecting a socialist future.” The Solomon article does not conceptualize “left unity” and “building the progressive majority” as separate and distinct projects but as fundamentally interconnected. For him, and many others, the role of the left in the labor movement and other mass movements gave shape, direction, and theoretical cohesion to the battles that won worker rights in the 1930s.
Solomon’s call has stimulated debate among activists around the idea of “left unity.” The appeal for left unity is made more powerful by socialism’s appeal, the current global crises of capitalism, rising mobilizations around the world, and living experiments with small-scale socialism such as the construction of a variety of workers’ cooperatives.
Effective campaigns around “left unity” in recent years have prioritized “revolutionary education,” drawing upon the tools of the internet to construct an accessible body of theory and debate about strategy and tactics that could solidify left forces and move the progressive majority into a socialist direction. The emerging Online University of the Left (OUL), an electronic source for classical and modern theoretical literature about Marxism, contemporary debates about strategy and tactics, videos, reading lists, and course syllabi, constitute one example of left unity. The OUL serves as one of many resources for study groups, formal coursework, and discussions among socialists and progressives. Those who advocate for “left unity” or left “convergence” celebrate these many developments, from workers cooperatives to popular education, as they advocate for the construction of a unified socialist left.
A second manifestation of political activism, the Occupy Movement, first surfacing in the media in September, 2011, initiated and renewed traditions of organized and spontaneous mass movements around issues that affect peoples’ immediate lives such as housing foreclosure, debt, jobs, wages, the environment, and the negative role of money in U.S. politics. Perhaps the four most significant contributions of the Occupy Movement have been:
1.Introducing grassroots processes of decision-making.
2.Conceptualizing modern battles for social and economic justice as between the one percent (the holders of most wealth and power in society) versus the 99 percent (weak, economically marginalized, and dispossessed, including the “precariat”).
3.Insisting that struggles for radical change be spontaneous, often eschewing traditional political processes.
4.Linking struggles locally, nationally, and globally.
During the height of its visibility some 500 cities and towns experienced Occupy mobilizations around social justice issues. While less frequent, Occupy campaigns still exist, particularly in cities where larger progressive communities reside. Calls for left unity correctly ground their claims in a long and rich history of organized struggle while “occupiers” and other activists today have been inspired by the bottom-up and spontaneous uprisings of 2011 (both international and within the United States).
A third, and not opposed, approach to political change at this time has been labeled “building a progressive majority.” This approach assumes that large segments of the U.S. population agree on a variety of issues. Some are activists in electoral politics, others in trade unions, and more in single issue groups. In addition, many who share common views of worker rights, the environment, health care, undue influence of money in politics, immigrant rights etc. are not active politically. The progressive majority perspective argues that the project for the short-term is to mobilize the millions of people who share common views on the need for significant if not fundamental change in economics and politics.
Often organizers conceptualize the progressive majority as the broad mass of people who share views on politics and economics that are ‘centrist” or “left.” Consequently, over the long run, “left” participants see their task as three-fold. First, they must work on the issues that concern majorities of those at the local and national level. Second, they struggle to convince their political associates that the problems most people face have common causes (particularly capitalism). Third, “left” participants see the need to link issues so that class, race, gender, and the environment, for example, are understood as part of the common problem that people face.
A 2005-2007 data set called “Start” (startguide.org) showed that there were some “500 leading organizations in the United States working for progressive change on a national level.” START divided these 500 organizations into twelve categories based on their main activities. These included progressive electoral, peace and foreign policy, economic justice, civil liberties, health advocacy, labor, women’s and environmental organizations. Of course, their membership, geographic presence, financial resources, and strategic and tactical vision varied widely. And, many of the variety of progressive organizations at the national level were reproduced at the local and state levels as well.
In sum, when looking at contemporary social change in the United States at least three tendencies have been articulated: left unity, the Occupy Movement, and building a progressive majority. Each highlights its own priorities as to vision, strategy, tactics, and political contexts. In addition, the relative appeal of each may be affected by age, class, gender, race, and issue prioritization as well. However, these approaches need not be seen as contradictory. Rather the activism borne of each approach may parallel the others. (the discussion of the three tendencies of activism appeared in Harry Targ, “The Fusion Politics Response to 21st Century Imperialism From Arab Spring to Moral Mondays,” ouleft.org, and was presented at the “Moving Beyond Capitalism” Conference, Center for Global Justice, San Miguel de Allende Mexico, July 29-August 5, 2014).
Building the Progressive Majority in 2016
The statement above from CCDS was published in 2009 and the description of the three political tendencies in the United States was presented in 2014. Since then, the Moral Mondays Movement in North Carolina captured national attention and stimulated a growing campaign around Reverend William Barber’s narrative of United States history referring to the “three reconstructions” and the articulation of his theory of “fusion politics.”
The egregious police violence against African Americans, particularly young men and women of color, has sparked a vibrant Black Lives Matter campaign that has caused a renewed interest in understanding the functions the police serve, the role of white supremacy, rightwing populism, and Michelle Alexander’s “New Jim Crow” in America.
Militant workers in growing sectors of the economy are rising up. Fast food workers are organizing around the “Fight for 15.” Health and home care, and other service sector workers are demanding the right to have their unions recognized. And teachers, transportation workers, and state employees have hit the streets and legislative assemblies to demand worker rights.
The peace movement has begun to resuscitate itself challenging a new cold war with Russia, boots on the ground and drones in the air to fight ISIS, and the unbridled growth of the military/industrial complex.
Finally, environmentalists have made a convincing case that the connection between neoliberal global capitalism and environmental catastrophe “changes everything.”
The three tendencies presented above—left unity, the Occupy Movement, and building a progressive majority—continue to be reflected in different kinds of organizing around the country based on the issues, levels of organization, predominant ideological manifestations, local political cultures, and the composition of movements in different places based upon class, race, gender, sexual identity, religious affiliation and issue orientation. And all these tendencies are worthy of attention and support, particularly in the 21st century “time of chaos.”
But a new campaign (potentially a movement) has emerged since the summer, 2015. Bernie Sanders, an aging left-oriented Senator from Vermont began his long uphill march to secure the Democratic Party nomination for the presidency. A sixties activist on civil rights and peace, a populist mayor of Burlington, Vermont, a Congressman and Senator from that state, Sanders, since his early days of political activism, has articulated an anti-Wall Street, anti-finance capital mantra that has its roots in various progressive currents in United States history, These include the populist campaigns of the 1890s, the militant workers struggles of the Wobblies during the Progressive era, the popular electoral campaigns of five-time Socialist Party candidate for President, Eugene V. Debs from 1900 to 1920; the industrial union movement of the 1930s which built the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and support for the New Deal legislation that provided some measure of economic security to many workers; to the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s and beyond.
Sanders has proceeded to excoriate finance capital and to link the enormous accumulation of wealth and income at one pole of American society and the maintenance and growth of the misery of the masses on the other. He has advanced his narrative by linking class, to race, to gender issues, and has begun to incorporate the apocalyptic possibilities of a future without addressing climate change. In a word, he has articulated a program that the CCDS program defined as the vision of “the progressive majority.”
The vision of a progressive majority is one that emphasizes the systematic articulation of the causes of human misery and what needs to be done to overcome them and the belief that the vision already exists among the majority of the American people. So far, the popularity of the Sanders campaign, the particular enthusiasm it is generating at the grassroots, including from youth, labor, feminist, anti-racist, and environmental organizations, and the demographics reflected in the Iowa caucus turnout and polling data, suggest that activists from the three tendencies identified above should direct their energies to supporting the Sanders presidential run. Most importantly, the Sanders campaign has inspired the possibility of building a long-standing progressive movement that will survive and grow until the November, 2016 election and beyond.
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.