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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
By Carl Davidson
For our pre-convention discussion
From its inception, CCDS has seen itself as a transitional organization, a bridge to something larger, more inclusive and more effective as a political instrument for the US left in the 21st century.
We are now nearly over that bridge, and if you’ll pardon my mixing metaphors, we are also now nearing the end game. The chess players among you will appreciate the point. Our forces are much reduced, and the end game is always very tricky. If you play it carelessly, coasting along, without much thought, well, you can easily lose. But if you play the end game well, you can still win.
What would winning look like in our ‘end game’? Let’s start with who we are. We have about 400 members active to some degree, and perhaps half of that fully active. We are largely ‘1968ers’, veterans of the ‘Long 1960s,’ starting in 1958 or so and extending into the early 1970s.
This means we have a lot of wisdom and political experience under our belts, and that we are, for the most part, well embedded in mass organizations-trade union and civil rights, peace and justice, women and climate change, and so on. I won’t do the whole laundry list, but despite low numbers, we are fairly well connected and embedded in the mass struggles.
Demographically, we are also increasingly retirees. This frees up many of us to devote even more time to the cause. But it also means, to a great degree, some of us also reduce our level of activity and engagement-and it’s only natural and personally healthy that we do so. Nonetheless, we don’t have the same connections with a younger, rising generation, or social lives that bring us into regular contact with them, their groups and their debates and ideas.
In brief, I’m arguing that politics is largely generational, especially politics with revolutionary goals embedded in radical insurgencies. The main fighting forces today come from the Millennials, and we are increasingly on the other side of a generational divide to a degree that we can no longer discount. I’ll also note here that we are not alone in facing this problem. The CPUSA and other groups largely made up of 1968ers face the same difficulties.
We have been well aware of this situation for some time. A few years back, we tried to organize ‘inter-generational dialogues’ in ten cities. We had mixed results. A few were excellent, others less so-but we made a good effort. For at least five years, we have also taken part in gatherings that draw in young radicals, like the Left Forum and the School of the Americas Watch, to engage in discussions and present ourselves with an upbeat public face, aiming to draw in younger recruits. We have created a number of valuable tools for radical education-the Online University of the Left, CCDSLinks, the annual publication of Dialogue and Initiative in an attractive book form, regular online discussion forums-and we have hosted or taken part in a number of ‘Left Unity’ gatherings and mass campaigns, like the Fight for 15, Black Lives Matter, and the Sanders campaign, largely comprised of younger people.
All this is to the good. But for us, it’s still not enough. A ‘next left’ of 21st Century socialists is indeed emerging, but not quite as we planned or thought it might happen. Our major miscalculation was an assumption that we could draw these people to us. That, to be frank, with a few valuable exceptions, is not likely to happen. Instead, we are going to have to merge with them. That’s the ‘radical rupture’ I’m proposing for our ‘end game.’ It was also the main conclusion Carl Bloice and I arrived at together in a discussion we had the month before his unfortunate passing.
So what should we do? Let’s start with our aforementioned 400 members. What would be an ambitious goal over the next, say, three years? How about helping to pull together a nationwide left unity project with, say, some 4000 cadres? Obviously, this is not going to happen with us alone, or even mainly with us. But what would we want of such a formation?
First, that it be primarily made up of people from the 20 to 45 age range, ie, the generation of our children and their younger friends. (This comes from the strategic consideration that every revolutionary force in history is comprised mainly of the young).
Second, we would want it to be a full rainbow of nationalities, even a ‘majority of minorities’ as well as well-balanced genderwise. (This come from the strategic consideration that the US revolution’s main forces will come from mainly from an alliance and merger of the general workers movements with the struggles of the oppressed, especially people of color and women, ie, the dimension of ‘intersectionality.’)
Third, we would want them embedded in the insurgencies of the young ‘precariat’ as well as having a foothold in more traditional trade unions and civil society organizations.
Fourth, we would want them to be flexible on electoral matters, willing to back candidates like Bernie, Khasama Sawant, Greens and even, in some cases, ‘lesser evils.’ (This comes from the strategic notion that history is made by the masses and of necessity of exhausting the battles for democracy, including the winning of government positions, and forming multi-class alliances, popular fronts, in the process).
Fifth, we would want them to love learning, to transform themselves into the ‘organic intellectuals’ and ‘permanent persuaders’ of a new Modern Prince, of a dynamic and disciplined ‘militant minority’ but a militant minority OF a progressive majority. (This comes from the deep connection between strategic alliances and the need for a core independent organization of the sector of the working class aiming for a new socialist order as well as immediate and transitional victories-the stronger the core, the broader the front).
The good news is that these forces are on the horizon, or exist in embryo, however you want to put it. The one with national reach is LeftRoots, which is working, city by city, to transform from a network to city-based cadre organizations. Another is the Boston Left Unity Project and NYC’s Left Labor Project, where CCDS, CP, Solidarity, Freedom Road, Jacobin Readers and others are meeting and planning educational events. There are already more than 40 Jacobin reading groups spread across the country, and we are active in at least three of them. Still others are new local circles of Millennial socialists-Philly Socialists, Kentucky Workers League, Appalachian Left, Louisville Socialists and others. They have been holding joint study retreats and conferences.
Read more of this article »
For our pre-convention discussion.
by Duncan McFarland
First I want to consider both the world situation and needs of the larger movement, and then how CCDS may contribute. Globally, climate change is growing worse, and while there was political progress at COP21 in Paris, measures to respond are still inadequate. Countries are modernizing their nuclear arsenals and wars are constant. In the US, the rich get richer while others struggle, racism and anti-immigrant sentiment is increasing. On the other hand, leftist social movements are strengthening, the prestige of socialism in increasing among young people, and there is rising populist energy on both the left and right. Confidence in mainstream institutions has fallen to a low point; this polarization is reflected in the enthusiasm for Sanders and Trump in the presidential campaign and corresponding lack of juice for Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush.
In the world today, US capitalism/imperialism is losing economic clout, has ceded all moral authority, and has declining political influence. US policy more and more relies on its only trump card, military power. Is this the period of the final decline of global capitalism? It is difficult to predict whether capitalism will again renew itself as it has always done since the many crises since World War I, but certainly this is a time of weakening of the system and opportunity for a strong anti-capitalist movement.
Marx and Engels clearly foresaw in general terms the eventual breakdown of the capitalism, leading to revolution and socialism. They described in scientific terms the historic role of the communists, socialists and working class as the leading force in the transformation to the new society. Setting aside for now consideration of the role of the five states internationally which are a product of socialist revolution (Cuba, China, Vietnam, Laos and North Korea), the socialist movement in the US is today fragmented, lacks power and is mostly ineffective in stepping up to fulfill its historic mission. This poses a dilemma, there are "no shortcuts" in rebuilding socialism yet the time of day requires urgency. Much that is relevant can be learned from left movements especially in Latin America and Europe.
The time has passed for the 1960s activist generation to form the leadership core for social transformation in the US. Older folks have a seat at the table, they may still make an important and even critical contribution, but the still challenging decisions on structure and program for the socialist movement will mostly be made by younger comrades.
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COP 21 what was achieved, what are the challenges to the Climate Justice movement?
By David Schwartzman
COP 21 just concluded its meeting on December 12 in Paris. COP 21 was the 21st meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change, a process started in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit. Climate justice activists generally had very sober expectations of its outcome, although this COP meeting was the first at which virtually all countries will at least submit their national plans with regard to climate change, subject to periodic review.
What did the COP 21 process achieve?
1) Agreed to goal of keeping global temperature increase “well below” 2 deg C and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 deg C warming above pre-industrial by 2100. (Goal but no penalties for failing to achieve INDCs, the Intended National Determined Contributions to curb carbon emissions over a projected time period). For more information on the results of COP21 go to: http://newsroom.unfccc.int/unfccc-newsroom/finale-cop21/
Significance of the 1.5 deg C target
“The fact that the accord prominently mentions the 1.5 °C target is a huge victory for vulnerable countries, says Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Dhaka, Bangladesh. “Coming into Paris, we had all of the rich countries and all of the big developing countries not on our side,” says Huq, an adviser to a coalition of least-developed nations. “In the 14 days that we were here, we managed to get all of them on our side.” (Nature Dec. 17, 2015).
2) 176 nations including the biggest greenhouse gas polluters, China, U.S. and EU, made specific commitments (INDCs) to eventually curb their greenhouse gas emissions, as well as to peak them as soon as possible.
(Note: Roughly 60 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from fossil-fuel use, with coal, natural gas (due to methane leakage into the atmosphere), and tar sands oil having the highest carbon footprint. Conventional liquid oil has the lowest carbon footprint, about three-fourths that of coal. (The other greenhouse gases derived from human activity include nitrous oxide, the breakdown product of nitrate fertilizer, with carbon dioxide and methane also coming from agriculture.)
3) This agreement requires a review of progress towards increasing their INDCs every five years, in a transparent process.
(“Each Party shall communicate a nationally determined contribution every five years …and any relevant decisions of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement..”, p. 22, ADOPTION OF THE PARIS AGREEMENT, December 12, 2015; You can download a pdf of this treaty at: http://unfccc.int/essential_background/library/items/3599.php?such=j&symbol=FCCC/CP/2015/L.9#beg)
4) Agreement included a commitment to $100 billion a year in climate finance for developing countries by 2020, and to further finance in the future.
5) The Paris Agreement is nearly universal, and as such is a symbolic step towards global cooperation and a more peaceful world.
How far is the Paris Agreement from an effective prevention program to avoid Catastrophic Climate Change?
Based on sum of INDC commitments: 2.7 to 3.5 deg C warming above pre-industrial by 2100 instead of agreed goal of keeping global temperature increase “well below” 2 deg C and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 deg C.
In the Introduction to the treaty itself we find: “much greater emissions reduction efforts will be required” to meet even the 2-degree target.
According to the IPCC holding warming to 2 °C will probably require emissions to be cut by 40–70% by 2050 compared with 2010 levels, Achieving the 1.5 °C target would require substantially larger emissions cuts — of the order of 70–95% by 2050.
Since the Paris Agreement doesn’t fully take effect until 2020 the chance to achieve the 1.5-degree goal will have already gone, unless all of the world’s largest economies dramatically change course.
Some climate scientists/activists assessments
Jim Hansen, retired NASA climate scientist: “It’s a fraud really, a fake,” .. “It’s just bullshit for them to say: ‘We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.’ It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.”
Patrick Bond, climate justice leader from South Africa: “Since 2009, US State Department chief negotiator Todd Stern successfully drove the negotiations away from four essential principles: ensuring emissions-cut commitments would be sufficient to halt runaway climate change; making the cuts legally binding with accountability mechanisms; distributing the burden of cuts fairly based on responsibility for causing the crisis; and making financial transfers to repair weather-related loss and damage following directly from that historic liability. Washington elites always prefer ‘market mechanisms’ like carbon trading instead of paying their climate debt even though the US national carbon market fatally crashed in 2010.”
What is the way forward for Climate Justice?
Rather than immobilizing the climate justice movement from the recognition of the huge challenges unaddressed in the COP21 agreement, indications so far point to a reenergizing process as a result, building on its recent victories such as the rejection of the X-L Keystone pipeline by President Obama and the actions of cities around the world to take more aggressive steps to curb their greenhouse gas emissions and transition to renewable energy supplies.
I suggest the following issues be put front and center:
1) The huge subsidies going to fossil fuels (IMF study: $5 trillion/year), with indirect costs including health impacts from air pollution (3-7 million die every year), with a goal to nationalize and decentralize with community management and ownership clean energy supplies in a full transition to wind/solar power.
2) The Military Industrial (Fossil Fuel Nuclear State Terror and Surveillance) Complex as block to achieving global cooperation for rapid curb on greenhouse gas emissions and a full global transition to wind/solar power. The Pentagon/Nato is the instrumental arm of Imperial foreign policy of the MIC, so while the Pentagon is going “green” with respect to energy conservation and use of renewables it is simply “greenwashing its Imperial role. The Pentagon’s recognition of the growing security threat from climate change reinforces the Imperial Agenda and military spending. Yes, of course there are critical contradictions within capital regarding energy policy, and the Green New Deal strategy must capture the “solar” faction of capital into a multi-class alliance to force demilitarization and termination of the perpetual war dynamic to have any hope of implementing a C3 prevention in time. Does any socialist believe that this prevention program can be realized as long as the State Terror apparatus is locked in the vicious cycle of violence with its useful enemy, its terrorist antagonist ?
As I concluded my Jacobin interview, the “vision of a knowledge-based, democratic, and socialist transition is building in passion and intensity, but it must confront its blind spots and weaknesses. In particular it must focus on forcing the dissolution of the military-industrial complex — a goal which is simultaneously a requirement for preventing catastrophic climate change and removing a major barrier to an ecosocialist path and the end of capitalism on our planet.”
To sum up, CCDS’s strategy remains very relevant: Build movement for a Global Green New Deal
I recommend an excellent resource: Trade Unions for Energy Democracy:
Also see my website with Peter Schwartzman, my older son:
For more from my perspective check out this Jacobin interview, December 1, 2015:
David Schwartzman, email@example.com
By Harry Targ
During the twentieth century the dominant circumstances of political life were clear. As capitalism evolved from manufacturing to finance, the character of international relations changed. Crude militarism, while constant, was increasingly aided by covert operations, and most importantly by economic penetration.
The United States as the hegemonic actor on the world stage during most of the century was the clear target of anti-war activism and class struggle at home. National liberation movements rose up to resist the drive for imperial control. Since contradictions existed in international and intra-national affairs our task was clearly to struggle against imperialism, monopoly capitalism, racism and sexism.
Twenty-first century global political economy is also characterized by these key features. Perhaps the “grand narrative,” as post-modernists would call it, remains the same. But, and this is critical, the politics of daily life is far more complicated and it is these complications that give the appearance of chaos. The old narrative and the chaos we experience need to be understood together; particularly among those of us who are committed to the vision of a twenty-first century socialism.
First, the current violence in the Middle East/Persian Gulf is escalating and spreading to other regions. The vicious violence in Paris and Beirut by presumably ISIS followers leads to mass murder. ISIS seems to represent a new brutal form of anti-systemic violence that shows no mercy or humanity. It has its roots in French and British colonial rule in the Middle East, United States collaboration with the Saudi monarchy, western support for the creation of the state of Israel in contradiction to those living on the land, a US-led war on Iraq in 1991, and the US wars of the twenty-first century in Afghanistan and Iraq. Blood is on the hands of every western power in the region but, in terms of victims of violence everywhere, blood also is on the hands of ISIS, Al Qaeda, the Syrian government, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, Russia, and Iran. Violence is about economic control, political hegemony, nationalism, resistance, and, perhaps to a lesser extent, religious sectarianism and fundamentalisms. The violence is also about arms transfers, racism, and hate.
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By Paul Krehbiel
Pat Fry has presented a very good document to begin our pre-convention discussion. Titled, "The Progressive Majority, Left Unity, and the Tasks of CCDS," she begins by explaining how and why CCDS was founded, the development of our main document (For a Democratic and Socialist Future), the development of the theory of the Progressive Majority as our basic organizing strategy (and proposals to change that strategy), efforts to build left unity, and the role of the left — especially CCDS. She talked about the key mass movements of our time, the links CCDS has to these movements, and efforts to build a more united and stronger left to win more victories for the people while laying the foundation for socialism. I agree with the general framework of our main political document and Pat’s presentation.
With this paper, I want to specifically add to Pat’s last paragraph. After addressing the major tasks before us (and the broader left), Pat states that "the tasks outstrip our capacity within CCDS as we face a declining membership in numbers and demographics, faltering finances, and weak local chapters." Given this, Pat recommends that we consider reorganizing the internal structure of CCDS, and focus on left unity and educational work.
I want to suggest that we add an organizing component to this, with more details and focus in our organizing plan and strategy to address how to best organize on the ground. Regarding the size of our membership, we have what we have and have to start here. More important is developing the best possible organizing plan and strategy. If that is done, we will gain new members. This is not a simple task. A number of efforts have been made to do this and I want to acknowledge and pay tribute to those efforts. Every effort has helped, and has added to our store of knowledge of how to develop an effective organizing strategy. Because this task is difficult, I want to recommend that we make a concerted effort to probe this topic during our pre-convention discussion period. In my view, this is the most important task before us, precisely because of Pat’s assessment of CCDS in her last paragraph. My goal is to begin the discussion of how we can recruit more members, build active and strong chapters, and improve our finances. In short, it requires a detailed organizing plan.
CCDS has played and continues to play an important and unique role within the left and progressive movements. To see CCDS decline and possibly cease to exist would be a significant loss to the left, the people’s movement’s, and to the larger society. I say this not to slight other left organizations and movements. Almost every organization on the left has a positive role to play. We recognize and welcome the contributions they make. Trying different strategies and tactics, and having different focuses of work, all add to the cumulative knowledge of the left and society and how to conduct our work. Life will reveal which strategies succeed and which need retooling.
When I urge a focus on building CCDS, this does not mean a shift away from mass work, nor theoretical and educational work. To the contrary, mass work, based on rich theoretical and educational work, must be at the center of what we do. The question is: how do we carry out mass work in a way that will best strengthen the mass movements, and CCDS.
To begin this discussion, I want to offer several ideas. I am not presenting a fully developed organizing plan. But I’m hopeful that these ideas will stimulate a discussion that will lead to that goal.
We need a simple, clear and bold statement of who we are, what we believe, what we want, and how we propose to succeed. This should be printed in many copies for public consumption. It should be short enough that it can be read in a couple of minutes, and be easily understood by all. This would be the main introduction of CCDS to the people and to those we want to recruit. This would spell out simply what we believe and make it easy for people to say, "yes, I agree with that, and I know why I’m joining." What follows is a first draft of that proposed document; I welcome feedback, discussion, amendments, etc.
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For CCDS Pre-Convention Discussion
By Pat Fry, CCDS Co-Chair
This paper is offered for pre-convention discussion. The first section is a review of the history of CCDS and the “Progressive Majority” movement-building strategy. The second section reviews Left Unity efforts and its relationship to building the Progressive Majority. The final section is on the tasks of the left and CCDS as we approach our national convention in July 2016.
Section 1 “For a Democratic and Socialist Future”
“For a Democratic and Socialist Future” is the founding document of CCDS. It was the focus of discussions for two years beginning with a national conference, “Perspectives for Democracy and Socialism in the 1990s,” held in 1992 in Berkeley, CA. The conference brought together over a thousand leftists from various political backgrounds. Many had recently resigned from the Communist Party USA in a struggle over democracy within the organization. Others had been members of various Socialist parties and many others were unaffiliated. Organizations sent representatives such as Solidarity, the National Committee for Independent Political Action, and the Crossroads magazine. There was an excitement about the possibility of launching a revitalized Left guided by principles of democracy and socialism, one that would “brush aside old barriers” and “develop constructive dialog on strategic issues and seek agreement on action.”
A committee elected at the Berkeley conference met to chart a course for what became the Committees of Correspondence, founded in Chicago in July 1994. The “For a Democratic and Socialist Future” document was the defining goals and principles of the new socialist organization. It presented an analysis of class forces in the aftermath of the collapse of Soviet socialism, and the importance of rebuilding a democratic and socialist left in the face of capitalist triumphalism over the defeat of much of the socialist world.
When the CoC was founded, Bill Clinton had been in the White House for two and a half years. The founding document noted that while the Clinton administration was more responsive to popular pressure and his election was a defeat for the extreme anti-people policies of Reagan and Bush, the Clinton “New Democrats” represented a growing long-term influence of neo-conservatism. Clinton’s refusal to raise the minimum wage, the ending of Aid to Dependent Children, “workfare, not welfare,” and NAFTA were examples cited. The newly founded Committees of Correspondence called for a new political realignment in the country:
“We believe that what is needed is a comprehensive approach linking progressive currents into a broad, ongoing democratic force. We advocate a powerful, democratic political realignment, based on a new progressive social contract which empowers the masses of American working people.”
A vision of socialism was outlined:
“By socialism we do not mean a social system in which the state dominates everything, or in which authoritarian measures are used to restrict human rights. Socialism without democracy is not socialism at all.” Rather, socialism “is a political, cultural, economic and ethical project, a struggle to transform power relations within a class divided society for the benefit of the overwhelming majority of the people. Socialism is not a fixed entity, but the social product of the dynamics of class struggle. Socialism must and will be constantly redefined by oppressed people who are engaged in struggle, over a long period of time.”
The Committees envisioned itself as a bridge to a larger socialist organization:
“While we seek to facilitate strategic cooperation among existing left groups which share basic principles, we believe there is a need for a much larger progressive and socialist organization, one more reflective of the working class and oppressed communities and the radical democratic movements than any existing organization. “
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