The Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism are deeply saddened by the news that Amiri Baraka will no longer be in our midst. He leaves the world a rich, deep body of revolutionary work as poet, activist, writer and mentor to many.
In 2006, Amiri keynoted an evening of culture, politics and youth at the CCDS 5th national convention in Chicago. He spoke passionately about the role of art and culture in affecting social change.
Pictured with Amiri above are other panelists who also spoke – Sam Lewis of the Elastic Arts Foundation and SW Youth Collaborative, and Andrei Mills of the University of Hip Hop.
Following is a remembrance of Amiri Baraka posted to the CCDS member list serve by Keith Joseph.
In Memory of Amiri Baraka: The First, The Last, The Only Poet Laureate of New Jersey!
In April of 1994 I attended a speech given by Amiri Baraka at the Douglass College Student Center; my life changed dramatically. He said, “We are here to tell you that there is still a revolutionary movement in the United States.” I became Baraka’s student, what used to be called a disciple. He knew the things that I wanted to know, he said the things that I wanted to say, he did the things that I wanted to do. I listened carefully to everything he said and read everything he wrote. When I met Amiri he was in his sixties. He was hunched over and gray bearded, but wiry and quick witted– always with a can of Lite beer from Miller. I, along with many others, worked with him on the revolutionary newspaper Unity & Struggle throughout the 90’s.
During this time, Amiri churned out political essays and political programs that have never been correctly gathered, organized or published. They were photocopies passed around among those in the local movement. Essays that are truly avant-garde: deep expressions of what is happening NOW. A wild mix of Marxism-Leninism, the Afro-American tradition, and modernist poetry, essays with titles like: “Revolutionary Democracy needs an Anti-Imperialist Cultural Revolution,” “The International Business of Jazz and the Need for Cooperative and Collective Self-Development of an International People’s Culture.” Essays describing the future RAZOR project – “Revolutionary Art for Revolutionary Culture,” essays describing organizations to sustain the creation of Jazz, essays describing the relation of urban institutions to revolutionary politics, essays describing the building of revolutionary organization and movement in the United States, along with cultural criticism and agit-prop poetry like: A Modest Proposal for Guiliani’s Disposal in 41 Verses which are also Curses. Baraka’s writings dazzle because he never allows his thinking to be constricted by the formality of language. Instead he forces the language to bend to the will of his thinking. He is an innovator of necessity. He isn’t an avant-garde writer for the sake of being avant-garde. The content of his thinking requires the formal innovations of his literary style.
Hopefully whoever the forces are that care about Baraka’s political legacy can work together to organize this stuff, and put it out as something like: “The Collected Political Writings of Amiri Baraka.”
Amiri often pointed out that as a Black Nationalist he had a much easier time getting his work published then when he began to call for working people of all races to fight capitalism together. Indeed, Baraka’s mature work as a Marxist is little known. The LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka Reader edited by William J. Harris includes a “Third World Marxist Period” but the work included is confined to the mid-eighties and a few poems from the early nineties. Baraka remained prolific until the end of his life. A huge body of work remains little known. Even ostensible allies played games around the publication of his later works and important book length analysis like Jessie Jackson and Black People remain unknown and of limited availability. So this is a call to gather and publish all of this stray work (I am working on a list of what I have and I hope others will do the same).
So much of what is coming out about Baraka around his passing is about his style or form. They say he was “offensive” or “controversial,” his legacy was “contradictory.” This obviously misses the point. I want to point out the crucial lessons I took from Baraka’s later work in the hopes that it will be intriguing enough to create some demand for original.
First, the objective of revolutionary struggle is taking power. Taking power is not an event in the future. We organize to take power today wherever we can touch it, “Wherever you can put your hands on it.” School boards, PTA’s, city councils, little leagues, public library’s, student governments, tenants associations, trade unions etc . Revolution is this process of taking power not a distant event. This is the process of creating “dual power” an idea that Baraka developed from Lenin — the power of working people existing and growing side by side with the power of capital until the former can defeat the latter. We take power by any means necessary. Baraka pointed out over that the promise of democracy is the Achilles heel of capitalism. A promise it cannot deliver but a promise we should insist on and here electoral politics are a crucial tool. Amiri’s son Ras Baraka is currently running for Mayor of Newark, NJ. The election of Ras Baraka as mayor of Newark was a long standing goal of Amiri’s efforts. A victory for Ras Baraka in Newark would also be a victory for the majority of people of Newark and fitting tribute to Amiri. Socialists have also won important elections recently in Seattle and Florida. Baraka actively encouraged this type of struggle.
Amiri insisted that we understand the Russian and Chinese revolutions correctly. They were democratic revolutions. In the parlance of Marxism, they were the bourgeois democratic stage of the revolution. This understanding was the basis for Baraka’s insistence on the centrality of the struggle of oppressed nations in general and the Afro-American nation in particular in the United States. Baraka was critical of Manning Marable’s book on Malcolm X for this reason. Baraka understood Malcolm X to have gone through a transformation similar to his own — a clarification of the enemy more so than a change of basic tasks. In other words, because of slavery, because of Jim Crow, because of the continuation of “separate but equal” and because of mass incarceration of Afro-American people the democratic revolution in the United States was and is incomplete. The relation of Black people to the United States is still the basic political question informing the history and politics of the country. It was the question struggled over during the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the writing of the Constitution, the Civil War—it is the central issue of U.S history. So, the struggle for Afro-American self-determination, equality and democracy remains the cutting edge of the revolutionary struggle whether you are a Black Nationalist or a Marxist-Leninist as Baraka would become. The difference is a better understanding of allies and the enemy.
Baraka further developed the idea of self-determination for oppressed nations. Self-determination was not simply the question of should a land area secede from the U.S. but rather “what should be the relationship of the Afro-American people to the United States.” A question for Black people to debate and decide for themselves.
Baraka often quoted Lenin’s essay “Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution. “
Baraka was particular inspired by Lenin’s idea of an alternate superstructure –a form of dual power. Restaurants, bars, bowling alleys, summer camps, cultural organizations linked to the revolutionary movement. Baraka led this effort by example. Amiri and his wife Amina opened their home for meetings and cultural events regularly. Kimako’s Blues was the name of the coffee house/cultural event held monthly in the Baraka’s basement. These events are among the fondest memories I have: food, poetry, and music often of the most outstanding quality in the most intimate setting. There are videos of these events out there. We need to collect them and make them widely available!
The last thing I learned from Baraka was not found in any essay. It was his example. Only those who never knew him would call him “offensive” or “controversial. “ He was accessible, generous, and warm. He loved to laugh and was always quick with a joke. Indeed, he highly prized humor. He always encouraged the younger generation. He lived his commitment to human freedom and dignity eschewing fame and fortune for the daily grind of organizing for revolution. When the horse piss started flying around his poem, “Somebody Blew Up America” and calls for him to resign as poet laureate came from opportunist politicians Baraka wrote “I will not apologize, I will not resign.” Because he was so uncompromising on principle his enemies could not defeat him they had to abolish the post of poet laureate. Thus Amiri Baraka is rightfully and forever the first, last and only poet laureate of New Jersey!
Long Live the indomitable spirit of Amiri Baraka!
The world is engaged in an unprecedented global celebration of the life of Nelson Mandela. Little-known information about his life is coming to light for the first time.
For us on the global Left, we approach the celebration of the revered freedom fighter’s life from a somewhat different perspective from what is appearing on television screens around the world.
Nelson Mandela was the first to say that the South African liberation struggle was led collectively. The decades-long alliance of the African National Congress, the South African Communist Party, and the South African trade union movement – most recently, the Congress of South African Trade Unions — worked together inside the country in urban centers and rural villages, in exile around the world, and in an armed struggle led by Umkhonto we Sizwe, over many years. While there are many reasons why Mandela came to represent the leadership of this alliance, tens of thousands of women and men collectively brought the South African National Democratic Revolution to the breakthrough of the first democratic election of 1994.
Nelson Mandela was unwavering – against severe pressure from the apartheid forces, the United States, and others — in his unwillingness to renounce his and the ANC’s association with the South African Communist Party and its leaders such as Chris Hani and Joe Slovo. His personal friendships with Communist leaders lasted for the rest of their lives.
At this time, information comes to light that Mandela was maintained on the United States’ "Terrorist Watch List" as late as 2008. A campaign has been launched to open the files of the Central Intelligence Agency concerning Mandela and his activities during the 1960s prior to his imprisonment.
CCDS demands the full truth be told about the relationship between the US Government and the apartheid regime’s suppression of the South African liberation movement.
CCDS continues to hope for the ongoing deepening of struggles for democracy and economic equality in the the U.S. in South Africa and across the globe. This is a difficult period for the people of South Africa, millions of whom face dire poverty, unemployment, illness – particularly HIV-AIDS – and racial and gender oppression almost twenty years after political democracy was won. The example of Nelson Mandela’s "ethical core" – as some have termed it — must remain alive in every nation and people’s movement and is needed now, more than ever.
Viva Nelson Mandela, Viva!
National Executive Committee, Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism
United States, Dec 12, 2013
[Thanks to Marilyn Albert in preparing this. A CCDS leader and a trade unionist, she was an International Observer of the 1994 election in South Africa and worked with the COSATU health care union in South Africa for about a year during 1996-97.]
August 28, 2013
A US military attack on Syria will only escalate the violence, create more destruction and loss of life, and derail efforts to work with Russia to convene an international peace conference. Such an attack will inflame an already dangerous situation and have unpredictable consequences, possibly leading to a disastrous regional war in the Middle East with US involvement. Such a war also will be a major blow to the progressive majority in our country, bringing a new wave of militarism at home and end efforts to cut the military budget to fund social programs. The solution to the Syrian conflict lies with international negotiations with full Syrian participation to achieve a cease fire and begin a nonviolent political process. A US attack only makes the situation worse and a solution more remote.
The use of chemical weapons is a reprehensible, heinous crime. The US should fully support the independent UN investigation and join with all members of the Security Council, including Russia and China, to fashion an appropriate response according to international law. But it must be noted that the U.S. has no moral ‘high ground’ on this matter. The US is a perpetrator of the “Agent Orange” chemical war against Vietnam, whose people are still suffering from the results, and an enabler of Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq war. Far from being motivated by humanitarian concerns, U.S policy is rooted in the desire to maintain strategic dominance in the Middle East and secure oil supplies.
CCDS calls for working with United for Peace and Justice, Peace Action and other peace groups to oppose such an attack before it occurs, and if it happens to follow through with actions to prevent further escalation and bring it to an immediate end. Start by putting some heat on your Member of Congress, even if it’s only a phone call or an email.
Opening Address to to the 7th CCDS Convention
By Mildred Williamson
What time is it? It’s a time of economic, social, environmental, and racial Injustice on steroids – a time of no respect for humanity.
We face a 9.3% unemployment rate (double or higher for Black people in certain communities); yet bourgeois economists and political pundits still characterize today’s economy as in recovery. Bailed-out megabanks are bigger and more profitable today than prior to the 2007-2008 meltdown. Yet millions of people, including renters, remain devastated by foreclosures, with too little help, or no help from government, or from their lenders. And while the foreclosure tragedy has affected people of very nationality, the impact of foreclosure on black communities has virtually served to wipe out what little “wealth” that had been acquired, basically pushing the income/wealth inequality gap into something not seen in this magnitude since slavery.
In fact, how far can we say we have we come from the “3/5 of a man” Constitutional definition of how Black people should be considered in US society? I say – not far enough, and if there is no sustained, organized struggle–witness the Voter’s Rights Act Supreme Court decision–we will have a more accelerated march backwards, away from making social progress, rather than forward.
As some observers have noted in the aftermath of the Zimmerman trial, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, served time in prison for organizing dog fights that resulted in death and injury to animals. However, George Zimmerman and countless numbers of official law enforcement officers throughout the US have shot and killed numerous human beings, who happen to be people of color, including unarmed youth, like Trayvon Martin; yet they have not been convicted, served time, lost pay or prestige in their positions of power over our lives.
And lest we not forget: there are hundreds, even thousands of persons incarcerated for crimes they did not commit; and even those with evidence of committing criminal acts, having such a high percentage driven by unjust “war on drugs” laws. These translate into a war on black and brown life, into war on people of color, especially youth. Please note further that many have died in prisons of preventable causes, due to less-than-standard care provided in many cases, by for-profit correctional health care providers.
Public education is crumbling and living wage jobs are scarce, even for many with college educations. The role and proliferation of privatized pre-school, K-12 and proprietary higher education institutions is essentially assuring that working class people with aspirations of improving their lives, will have obstacles that may be insurmountable to overcome, due to profit-making at all costs, trumping everything – even human life.
In Chicago, were it not for the solid labor-community-student-parent coalition built with leadership from the Chicago Teachers Union, local residents and the rest of the nation would not have known about the vicious scheme of Mayor Rahm Emanuel to close more than 100 schools. Through a mass fightback, that number got reduced to less than 50 – still the most school closures in the history of this country. Stay tuned for the outcome of the two lawsuits pending – one based on racial discrimination (80% African American and Latino children affected); and the second based on 30% of students with disabilities and special needs affected by the closings.
What time is it? Ben Jealous (NAACP Executive Director) describes the concerns of many of his young Black friends who stated their uncertainty of living long enough to reach their 21st birthdays and then shares his Grandmother’s response, when asked:
“Our generation of Black Americans was supposed to be the first not to be judged by our race or the color of our skin. Instead, we had come of age to find ourselves the most incarcerated on the planet and most murdered in the country.
“‘Grandma,’ I would ask days later, still searching for understanding: “What happened? How did things turn out like this?”
Her response was the crux of his speech to the 104th NAACP convention this week. He said, she leaned in and spoke softly: “It’s sad but it’s simple: We got what we fought for, but we lost what we had.”
Did we really get all of what we fought for – or was it derailed?
–By the impact of the Smith Act, McCarran Act, Right to Work laws?
–By the blacklisting, imprisonment, deportation and murder of radicals and communists – particularly their purge from labor and other social justice organizations?
–By the assassination of Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Fred Hampton & many others?
–By Deindustrialization and global outsourcing of unionized, living wage, manufacturing jobs?
–By the Nixon-led Southern Strategy, virtually unchecked, followed by the Reagan right wing surge?
–By the war on drugs and mass incarceration?
–By ‘No Child Left Behind’ and ‘Race to the Top?’
–By the Vietnam war, the wars in Iraq/Afghanistan, and the Gulf wars I and II?
Each of these policies and events served a purpose for the ruling class – over time, to weaken or even squash radical thought and action to reach multiracial working class power and refuse to affirm value in Black and brown life and their right to fulfill their human potential.
Though there have been extraordinary victories in the struggle for social justice, ending wars in Vietnam and Iraq, brilliant victories in numerous key elections, some union organizing successes, freedom of many political prisoners, starting with Angela Davis – we still remain challenged by the net to get the intertwining issues of class/race/gender right in our strategy and tactics of struggle on every issue, from jobs to healthcare, immigration, incarceration, the environment and climate change. Our ability to make and sustain social progress critically depends on this. Disciplined, organized, radical leadership is essential to move us forward.
I am encouraged by the recent demonstrations of numerous low-wage workers fighting for a living wage – McDonald’s, Wal-Mart, even Foot Locker workers. Some of these have taken place in Chicago and consider the stories of the protesters: One young Black man at one of the Chicago protests reported that he worked for $10.15/hour at a Nike store in 2008, and over 2 years he got up to $11.17 an hour. Later, the store shut down for renovations; he and his co-workers were laid off. He was called back to work for $10 an hour, which he was still making at the time of the protest which took place this spring – 2013. This is a five-year period of his life. He does not now, nor did he ever make enough money to live on his own – typical of most low wage, retail work.
McDonald’s, just this week developed what they called a financial planning guide for their workers which assumed the average cost for rent was $600 a month and healthcare was $20 a month, in addition to framing the entire context of having a second job in addition to their full time McDonald’s job ($24,000 yearly on average) – to make ends meet. They also suggested that the worker simultaneously should be going to school to gain additional skills. This is insulting to their workforce, at best. It’s a plan that was proposed for workers by a corporation that consistently makes super-profits, even during the recent massive recession, (which is not over for many of us).
What time is it? As long as Black and brown lives are thought of and treated as disposable, in a 21st century-three-fifths-of-a-person fashion, it will be impossible to achieve working class power in this country.
Economic and social policies are literally destroying Black and brown lives, and simultaneously further weakening working class power. Case in point: Former President George W Bush once called a meeting at the White House with members of the Congressional Black Caucus. In an effort to persuade them to support his proposal to virtually privatize Social Security, he shared that the CBC should support this idea because:
Social Security was especially unfair to African Americans. Because their life expectancy was shorter, black workers received an average of $21,000 less in benefits than whites of comparable income levels. He said personal accounts (such as 401k), could be passed along to the next generation, and would go a long way toward reducing that disparity. Source: Decision Points, by Pres. George W. Bush, p.298-299 , Nov 9, 2010
Instead of addressing the socioeconomic determinants of why Black life expectancy is shorter than other groups in the US, then President GW Bush cynically just said to his CBC guests that it is better to just save up on your own into a plan that is beholden to the ups and downs of the stock market. How insulting it must have been for these Congressional leaders to sit there to hear that; just as it remains insulting for John Lewis and all other living participants of the civil rights movement to hear that Supreme Court decision to virtually butcher the Voters Rights Act.
To achieve comprehensive social change that shifts the balance of power toward the working class, rejecting white supremacy–embracing all disenfranchised elements of humanity–is essential. This requires radical, disciplined leadership that is organized in thought and purpose to build a movement anchored by the voice and action of organized and unorganized workers, and marginalized populations. The labor movement has the right slogan – Jobs with Justice. We need both – not either or. Though the labor movement is at its smallest in size, that which remains, must continue and grow its coalition with others for a significant rise in the minimum wage; for massive reinvestment in public education for all; for LGBTQ rights; for the right of women to all aspects of reproductive health and freedom from abuse; for the rights of immigrants; for the right to quality public education, including higher education; for the abolishment of prisons and an overhaul of the criminal justice system – and for ending all modern vestiges of slavery, Jim Crow and genocide in institutions and in human interaction.
Finally, we must fight with humility and purpose to strengthen and promote radicalized thought and action in the quest for social justice, human rights and working class power. This requires a fresh look at what it means to be “Left” in this phase of capitalism. What is the winning strategy to reduce the number of white working class people from voting against their own class interests, especially since fewer are unionized and fewer live in integrated communities? What will be the winning strategy be to achieve left unity – and just what does that mean today? How can we build respect for youth in leadership of social justice movements while still showing simultaneous respect for elders? How do we fully move our thought and action from the multiracial unity “slogan” to normalized, genuine demonstration respect for multiple cultures, gender expressions and sexual orientation? These questions and more tough ones – need answers in order to chart the path forward in the quest for working class power. Let’s work on them at this 7th CCDS Convention, and thereafter
Historian Mark Solomon looks at the prospects for a new socialist left
By Mark Solomon
Published by Portside March 6, 2013
On February 4, 2010 The Gallop Poll released its latest data on the public’s political attitudes. The headline read: “Socialism Viewed Positively by 36% of Americans.” While the poll did not attempt the daunting task of exploring what a diverse public understood socialism to mean, it nevertheless revealed an unmistakably sympathetic image of a system that had been pilloried for generations by all of capitalism’s dominant instruments of learning and information as well as by its power to suppress and slander socialist ideas and organization.
In sheer numbers, that means a population at the teen- age level and above of tens of millions with a favorable view of socialism.
Why then is the organized socialist movement in the United States so small and so clearly wanting in light of the potential for building its numbers and influence?
That is a crucial question. At every major juncture in the history of the country, radical individuals and organizations in advance of the mainstream have played essential roles in influencing, guiding and consolidating broad currents for social change. In the revolution that birthed this country, radical activists articulated demands from the grass roots for an uncompromising and transforming revolution to crush colonial oppression. Black and white abolitionists fought to make the erasure of slavery the core objective of the Civil War while also linking that struggle to women’s suffrage and trade unionism. A mass Socialist Party in the early 20th century fought for state intervention to combat the ravages of an increasingly exploitative economic system while advancing the vision of a socialist commonwealth. In the Great Depression, the Communist Party and its allies fought the devastations of the crisis – helping to build popular movements to expand democracy, grow industrial unions and defend protections for labor embodied in the historic New Deal.
Small left and socialist organizations in the sixties supported a range of progressive struggles from peace to civil rights to women’s liberation to gay rights and beyond. The limited resources of those groups were effective in galvanizing massive peace demonstrations and in campaigns against racist and sexist oppression. But the Cold War and McCarthyism had eviscerated any hope for a major influential socialist current. Consequently, no large and impacting force existed to extend to the peace movement a coherent anti-imperial analysis that might have contributed to its continuity and readiness to confront the wars of the nineties and the new century. Nor was there a strong socialist organization to contribute to the civil rights struggle by advocating for reform joined to a commitment to deeper social transformation. Had such a current existed, it might have contributed to building a broad protective barrier against the devastating FBI and local police violence against sectors of the movement like the Black Panthers.
There should be little debate today on the left over the need for a strong socialist voice and movement in light of festering economic stagnation, war on the working class, looming environmental catastrophe, a widening chasm between the super-rich and the rest of us, massive joblessness and incarceration savaging African Americans and other oppressed nationalities, crises in health care, housing and education. Such a strong socialist presence could offer a searching analysis of the present situation, help stimulate a broad public debate on short term solutions and formulate a vision of a socialist future that could begin to reach the minds and hearts of the 36 percent who claim to be sympathetic to that vision. Read more of this article »
We in the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism are deeply saddened by the death of Brandon Wallace on January 10th, 2013 and we express our deepest sympathy to his family and friends. Brandon was one of our young leaders with tremendous talents. His passing is a heartbreaking loss. Brandon contributed much to our organization as well as his larger community. He was well loved and respected by many.
Brandon served on the National Coordinating Committee and also helped to produce our newsletter, The Mobilizer, for which he recently did an interview with Marian Gordon about her trip to Palestine. Brandon was our Southern Regional Organizer. He was deeply committed to the local movements in Alabama where he lived.
Fellow young member of CCDS and friend Camille Williamson wrote, "As we reflect upon Brandon’s legacy of work we are reminded that the struggle for social justice is a journey full of passion, commitment, and motivation. And we will always be inspired by Brandon’s contributions to progressive movement-building. Furthermore, we will cherish his eloquent ability to synthesize his thoughts and ideas into a ribbon of poetry for all to share.”
Brandon was an award winning writer and recently published a book of poetry, Shadows and Light. He maintained a blog Julius Speaks which was, as he put it "A collage of personal, political, cultural and historical commentary from the thought of Brandon Wallace." Through his writings and actions he influenced many. He will be greatly missed.
The following is from Brandon’s book Shadows and Light. http://tinyurl.com/b58lvep
By Brandon Wallace
Bermuda Grass in Lincoln Park,
The sound of black musicians on guitar- Earth, Wind, and Fire combining the
elements in a gravitational groove, pulled into the dizzy of a neutron dance.
A lipstick, cherry bright as the light of a smile, red Thunderbird,
the blackenized Barbie turned inside out,
pulled up into the alley, against the crosspatch, metal fence
behind the house with shaved top and delicate cement,
only the slightest bit of grass growing through the cracks
where we played Red Light/ Green Light Red Green Red and Green Lights
flashing, blending together in backgrounds of black and sunshine yellow,
the red appears in pores and freckles in the brightness of the sun
with the distant green tops of trees,
the green of the electric carpet against which I used to rub to feel the current.
Rows of houses, claustrophobically close, creating closeness and warmth,
Coca Cola and Pepsi, in red bottles with white lines,
sprite in green and lemon yellow, juicy fruit and Ronald Reagan,
Jesse Jackson in wool overcoats holding signs,
campaigns for change.
Harold Washington, change,
the color of his suits.
promise and vision.
Brandon Wallace, Presente!
January 14, 2013
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Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism
Call to Our Convention 2013:
Gather in Pittsburgh!
The struggle for our nation’s future has intensified. The rainbow coalition and multi-class alignment that coalesced around the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama defeated the far- right appeal to racism, misogyny, homophobia and rejection of science. This reflects the growing strength and cohesion of the multiracial labor movement and its allies within a larger progressive majority. Yet the 1% retains power and strives to manage economic crises in a way that sticks working people with the bill.
Unemployment, hunger and homelessness increase, union membership declines, and too many impoverished, crisis-shocked communities, especially in the South, remain captive to messages of hate. A rational response to the existential crisis of humanity—accelerating climate change—is blocked by capitalism’s irrational profit drive. The 99% can solve these problems on the basis of our common humanity.
Pressures of war, austerity and climate danger demand new levels of unity and struggle. New forms of labor activism lead beyond traditional trade union organizing toward a broader working class movement. The uprisings from Wisconsin to Occupy to Wal-Mart, and from Trayvon Martin to the UndocuBus, represent an emerging democracy movement. Based in the working class, linked with the community, and following the path boldly taken by the civil rights movement, today’s movements can win new demands.
Through years of experience, the Left has learned that building lasting unity among allies involves tactful, constructive and unrelenting struggle. Our work can replace neo-liberal influences with class, political, cultural and moral solidarity and democracy. CCDS focuses on the intersection of class, race and gender as fundamental to both an objective social analysis and an effective political agenda. The Left is indispensable to weaving the threads of struggle into a mass formation independent of the 1%.
Polls reveal a growing plurality of youth that prefer socialism to capitalism. With determination, we socialists proceed toward our common future. In pre-convention discussion, we will examine the economy, the environment, civil society, the commons and the state within the context of the class struggle. Now CCDS calls upon its members and allies to convene in Pittsburgh in July, 2013 to assess our experience and to plan for the future.
Access the Main Pre-Convention Discussion Document at http://ccds-discussion.org
Download a PDF File of The Call
Convention 2013: Draft Main Resolution
This document is a draft of the main resolution on the 2013 convention agenda. CCDS conventions follow democratic process in discussion, amendment and voting on this and all resolutions. Your active participation in thorough discussion of this document before the convention is a crucial part of the democratic process. Please post your comments at http://www.ccds-discussion.org/?p=2337.
TURNING POINT: Growing Dangers and Growing Progressive Strength Require a Bolder Strategy
In an 1859 study of conflict and social transformation, Karl Marx wrote,
“it is always necessary to distinguish between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, artistic or philosophic-in short, the ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out.”
Let this guide our pre-convention discussion.
Three decades ago, the post-WW2 economic boom began to stagnate in the United States, Europe and Japan. At first uneven, a global pattern became dominant. To shore up declining rates of profit, the bourgeoisie dismantled economic regulatory mechanisms. Employing new technologies, they moved production to countries on the low-wage periphery of capitalism. At home, wages, and then consumption, stagnated. Economic expansion relied increasingly on loans and other financial instruments. This secured the dominance of financiers in the economy and the state.
Austerity. After looting public treasuries in a series of regressive tax cuts, and still more looting to recoup staggering investment losses, financiers now demand cuts in social programs. These programs, the social wage, support the standard of living of the working class. The cuts are called “austerity”-for whom?
Financiers spoke in a spring, 2012 Forbes editorial:
“If these governments can quickly balance their budgets and lower the level of nominal debt
outstanding; it gives them a chance to restore investors’ confidence in the bond market … and offers the
hope that the private sector can rapidly supplant the erstwhile reliance on public sector spending.”
Their jargon disguises their intent. The financial bourgeoisie is not against public spending-on the military. Their real goal is to reduce total wages by gradually eliminating the social wage. The more wages fall, the greater their take. Thus they undermine the part of the state that provides what their pundits deride as “entitlements.” Yes, medical care in old age and in poverty, food stamps to alleviate starvation, and free and compulsory public education are entitlements-human rights for which we will fight.
War. Requiring OPEC to trade oil in U.S. dollars has underwritten the international dominance of U.S. financial institutions since 1973. OPEC member states Iraq, Iran, Libya and Venezuela began to resist in 2000. Rather than recognize their sovereignty, the U.S. government decided to maintain the petrodollar system by perpetuating a state of war in the oil-rich regions. Facing an expanding arsenal- guns, bombs, corporate mercenaries, devastating blockades cloaked in diplomacy, missiles launched from remote-control drones-the peoples of those regions pay with their lives, as do the United States
The emergence of China as a world economic power, as a competitor for natural resources and markets, and as a creditor to the capitalist states has been met with the establishment of a second U.S. military focus: the South China Sea. By militarily supporting Taiwan separatists, Japanese revanchists and the South Korean right, U.S. policy creates international tensions aimed at weakening China and hindering peaceful economic and social cooperation in Asia.
Climate Danger. In 2009, the U.S. National Academy of Science joined the national academies of a dozen other countries to report:
“climate change is happening even faster than previously estimated; global CO2 emissions since 2000 have been higher than even the highest predictions, Arctic sea ice has been melting at rates much faster than predicted, and the rise in the sea level has become more rapid. Feedbacks in the climate system might lead to much more rapid climate changes. The need for urgent action to address climate change is now indisputable. For example, limiting global warming to 2°C would require a very rapid worldwide implementation of all currently available low carbon technologies.”
The world’s scientists have unequivocally concluded that the need for “very rapid” action is “urgent.”
Why do the world’s governments take no action? London’s Carbon Tracker Initiative estimates that the world’s proven oil, gas and coal reserves contain the equivalent of 2,795 gigatons of CO2. Scientists estimate that limiting global warming to 2°C requires limiting CO2 release to less than 565 gigatons. However, as Bill McKibben writes in the Rolling Stone of August 2, 2012:
“John Fullerton, a former managing director at JP Morgan who now runs the Capital Institute, calculates that at today’s market value, those 2,795 gigatons of carbon emissions are worth about $27 trillion. Which is to say, if you paid attention to the scientists and kept 80 percent of it underground, you’d be writing off $20 trillion in assets. The numbers aren’t exact, of course, but that carbon bubble makes the housing bubble look small by comparison. It won’t necessarily burst-we might well burn all that carbon, in which case investors will do fine. But if we do, the planet will crater.”
The financial capitalists stand in the way of a rational solution to civilization’s crisis of existence- climate change.
Marx continued the 1859 passage cited above observing that new conditions mature within the old society, and concluded:
“Humankind thus inevitably sets itself only such tasks as it is able to solve, since closer examination will always show that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution are already present or at least in the course of formation.”
The 99% must empower itself; that is where the solutions lie.
Federal Elections. In 2010, Tea Party demagoguery and lackluster Democratic leadership lured crisis-shocked workers into handing Republicans substantial gains in Congress and in state legislatures. In 2012, the Progressive Majority behind President Obama’s 2008 victory prevailed against a Republican campaign of racism, misogyny, homophobia and rejection of science. While ruling class elements paid the obscene media bill, the election was won with a powerful grassroots campaign by trade unionists, Blacks, Latinos, women, gays, seniors and youth—a social bloc based in the working class.
State Elections. In 2012, the two parties’ fortunes in state elections ran counter to those at the federal level. New districts followed Republican maps, the fallout of the 2010 elections. Thirty-eight one-party state legislatures emerged in 2012-twenty-four Republican, including all Southern states but Kentucky. Yet again, crisis-shocked workers-especially in impoverished Southern states with little union organization-fell for messages of hate from the network of institutions designed to maintain capitalist power. Indeed, politics is much more than elections.
Politics Is the struggle for hearts and minds; it is the struggle for class power. People generally see politics as annual public contests at the ballot box, the outcomes of which are thought to rest on a public discussion of the candidates’ personal characters and general ideals. Yet the function of this image, like the curtain in the Wizard of Oz, is only to conceal the real sources and mechanisms of power. The political power of the ruling class rests ultimately on its ownership of the main strategic economic assets, including key media outlets. Because it wishes to stifle the exercise of power by the working class, the ruling class seeks to limit working class understanding of how power works.
Yes, elections are political, as is the whole realm of the state, which encompasses powers of coercion such as the new Jim Crow of mass incarceration, as well as public policy and the rest of the public sector, from sanitation services to social security. The struggle for democracy occurs not only in voting booths, but also in workplaces and communities. In fact, the Voting Rights Act was not won by voting. It was won in pitched battles in civil society, the political arena outside the family, the state and the economy, which we sometimes call the streets.
Wikileaks’ use of the internet to open the U.S. government’s cloak of secrecy is politics in the field of the commons, the intellectual and natural resources that belong by right to all society. Transforming elements of the commons into private property is called privatization or enclosure. The historic defense of the commons against enclosure has come down to saving the fresh water supply from privatization, and to protecting crops and human genes from corporate ownership by patent. The outcome of this struggle is of fundamental significance to democracy: will private corporate interests control access to water, food and medicine?
Classes are based in economic relations, which makes the economy the fundamental arena of politics. Trade union organizing and campaigns for equal pay for equal work are politics in the field of the economy. Workers’ cooperatives benefit worker-participants and model an economic alternative to capitalism. Especially in light of the danger posed by carbon emissions, the highest political question in the field of the economy is what society produces and how.
Politics runs through all these channels, day after day, year after year, and it is impossible to develop a class political strategy without recognizing that fact.
Alliances. The Communist Manifesto informs us: “The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority,” it encourages strategic alliances, and advises us: “The Communists fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class; but in the movement of the present, they also represent and take care of the future of that movement.” As the present multi-class electoral alignment strains under austerity, war and climate danger, we must weave together a mass formation independent of the capitalist plutocracy.
New Alignments, New Strategies
Retreating under capitalist onslaught, union membership in the United States, the European Union and Japan continued its downward spiral. Fighting defensive battles, the Left has also retreated. Yet spontaneous militant movements-the Arab Spring, the Indignados of Spain, the workers’ occupations of the statehouses in Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio, Occupy Wall Street-rose up and shook society by the shoulders. The 99% had no more space to retreat-the banks had foreclosed our homes! Business-as-usual was shattered, political discourse was changed from the need to cut social services to the need to end gross disparities in income and wealth. We were revived.
A new consciousness of the struggle for democracy emerged in the protests against the “stand your ground” vigilante laws and the killing of Trayvon Martin, in the protests against the death penalty and the judicial murder of Troy Davis, and in the struggles of courageous undocumented workers and students who openly rode the UndocuBus and fought for the Dream Act. New forms of labor organizing appeared and spread, drawing working class communities into direct action at the workplace: the long campaign at Republic Windows and Doors that gave birth to a workers’ coop in Chicagoland, the Chicago teachers’ strike, the nationwide actions at Wal-Mart, and the growing Southern Workers’ Assembly.
Struggles involving communities in direct action to organize the workplace-with or without a sanctioned election-project beyond the current state of the trade unions toward a growing working class movement. It is a rejection of business unionism, which reduced unions to fee-for-service organizations on behalf of the narrowest workplace interests-the Cold War mold into which unions were forced, as socialists and communists were kicked out of elected leadership and staff positions. The European general strikes against austerity, of similar significance, united the labor movement, calling upon, and serving, the whole class.
Emerging is a democracy movement based in the working class, one capable of winning demands from the capitalist system by following the bold path of the Civil Rights Movement in an earlier day. The Left must recover its revolutionary heritage, help this movement forward, and, along with our allies in labor, draw the difficult lessons on the need to overcome Cold War remnants and other deterrents to independent initiative.
The Rainbow Model. Looking forward, formations such as North Carolina’s Historic Thousands on Jones Street Coalition, South Carolina’s Progressive Network and Ties That Bind Coalition, and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, could play a special role in state-level political struggles, linking the economy, civil society and electoral politics. From the viewpoint of electoral politics-by walking picket lines and taking up street-level struggles that matter to our communities-this link means constituency building. From the viewpoint of civil society, this link can drive accountability of elected officials.
During the 1980s, the Rainbow Coalition played this role at the national level. After President Carter fired U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young for meeting with Palestinian representatives, Reverend Jackson’s dramatic 1979 mission to Palestine garnered support in the African-American community. In 1984, he negotiated the return from Syria of a captured U.S. pilot, boosting his presidential campaign. The Rainbow became a phenomenon in 1988, when Jackson walked the picket line with striking paper workers in Jay, Maine and supported family farmers in Greenville, Iowa. The Rainbow linked-to mutual advantage-movements in the economy, civil society and the state.
“The Rainbow Coalition is a mass political movement, committed to the expansion of the definition and practice of democracy in our country, including the realization of economic justice. As such it has to be bold enough to perceive of itself as the historic replacement for the existing two-party system: one prepared to act as a ‘dual authority,’ carrying out political education, developing the public’s insights into the systemic character of many of the nation’s problems, and consequently proposing solutions to these problems that are germane.”
Alliance Anatomy. The Rainbow campaigns contributed to President Obama’s electoral successes. But why did Obama’s presidential bid succeed while Jackson’s failed? The Obama campaign was based on a far larger alignment, a multi-class alignment that encompassed class interests from the working class suffering from economic stagnation, to Wall Street bankers expecting a titanic federal bailout. Clearly, the politics of such an alignment is unreliable for workers, but acceptable to the ruling elite. The class basis of the Rainbow, on the other hand, lay with family farmers and workers. Its political program was anathema to the ruling class, and was not destined to capture the presidency in the 1980s. But the future belongs to the Rainbow.
These two formations have historical names. The Popular Front was the multi-class alignment that emerged in the United States, as well as in other countries, during WWII and the anti-fascist struggle. Within it, the deep alliance around the militant CIO unions and the CIO Political Action Committee was termed the United Front. Similar formations emerged in other countries as well. With President Franklin Roosevelt’s death, the Popular Front suffered a serious blow, as bourgeois participants turned against their working class partners, a prelude to Cold War. While the united front could continue, it organized a wave of strikes for Roosevelt’s second bill of rights. Its last recognizable mass effort was the 1948 Progressive Party presidential campaign of Henry Wallace, although it was officially opposed by the CIO. In general, relations among parties to a popular front will be strained on precisely those issues where the interests of the united front diverge from those of leading capitalists.
Over the last several years, a multi-class popular front–what CCDS terms the Progressive Majority–came together to support the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and to defend against the political right wing. The United Front-from the state-level formations to the One Nation Working Together coalition mentioned above-is what can change the Progressive Majority from a defensive alignment to a transformative alignment. The Progressive Majority is a framework in which social leadership can be contested by the United Front while it acts to shift the terrain of struggle in its favor and to isolate the financial bourgeoisie.
Transition. The transition in the Progressive Majority from leadership by sectors of the capitalist class to leadership by the working class forces of the United Front may be extended-punctuated perhaps by acute economic, military or climate crises. This transition requires a more self-conscious working class, which in turn requires a more unified and larger Left. The Left must help to forward the emerging united fronts by building up a body of capable activists at the grass roots. Of course, we seek to retain what is useful in the Progressive Majority. A sound chess strategy looks, not just at the next move, but at the next three.
Though we struggle with organizational fragmentation and lingering feelings of political isolation, the Left has an indispensable role to play in supporting emerging strategic formations and encouraging their independence of action. Together with allies, our central task is organization-building. The Left’s distinct contribution in that central task is revolutionary education. In educating new activists, we are uniquely able to impart the sensitivity necessary for service to the class at its grass roots, as well as the broad understanding of social dynamics necessary for visionary leadership. The Left must work, tactfully and unrelentingly, to rebuff neo-liberal influences and to nourish class, political, cultural and moral solidarity and democracy.
For some years, Left organizations have cooperated in popular struggles. This cooperation could be deepened qualitatively by developing a common southern strategy. Organizing gains in the South- historic base of the Black masses, locus of new manufacturing investments-have a multiplier effect throughout the country. This could broaden the foundation for organizational unity. The CCDS focus on the intersection of class, race and gender contributes to lasting unity among allies.
In poll after poll, a significant number of youth favor socialism over capitalism. We socialists take heart, and proceed with determination for our common future. CCDS calls on its allies and members to convene in Pittsburgh in July, 2013 to assess the concrete situation and the quality of our work since the last convention, and to orient ourselves to the future. There will be an expanded opportunity to plan our work in strategic areas of struggle.
Download a PDF file of the main discussion document
Check Out This Project And Prepare To Be Amazed!
By Carl Davidson
Keep On Keepin’ On
Many people know the internet is full of instructional treasures for educating activists new to the left–and for the ongoing education of elder comrades as well.
One problem, however, is that these little gems are scattered far and wide, often in obscure places. It’s a tedious task, even with Google and other research tools, to find and sort through them, making them handy and useful to key audiences.
Enter the `Online University of the Left,’ a new `Left Unity’ project initiated by the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. It’s core orientation is Marxist, but it contains teaching resources reflecting the full range of views on the wider left. About 50 left academics are involved in the core group so far-Richard Wolff, David Schweickart, Rose Brewer, Tim Johnson, Gregory Morales, William Tabb, Ellen Schwartz, Jerry Harris, Linda Alcoff, Dana Cloud, Gar Alperovitz, to name a few.
One of the OUL’s key aims is to solve this problem of scattered resources, creating a web portal that will bring much of this valuable material together in one spot in cyberspace. The link is http://ouleft.org, and you can also search for its Facebook page by name-and be sure to `like’ it on Facebook, if you do. More `likes’ expand the features available to it.
The core idea is that anyone with a smartphone, a laptop, a large computer screen or, best of all, a digital projector connected to any of these, can now run any mixture of hundreds of video lectures and documentary films on a wide range of topics. Whether for individuals, small groups or large classes, it offers a multimedia dimension to revolutionary education at no cost.
That’s only the beginning. One marvelous feature will be the ability to hold lectures, classes and discussion groups in real time. The participants will be able to hear and see each other via video-conferencing, permitting back-and-forth dialogue. These can also be recorded, edited for improvement and added detailed, then preserved as on-line `webinars’ for future repeated use. The OUL will likely charge a small fee, or require a low-cost subscription, however, for access to this particular feature.
This raises an important question: how will the OUL be sustained financially? For the moment, it’s being supported by a small grant that will launch it and keep it going for a year or so. After, that, it will have to find or create a number of revenue streams to keep it rolls. One example is the subscriptions and fees for real-time events mentioned above. Another is the `Bookstore’ tab, which connects the viewer to our `shelf’ at Powell’s, one of the country’s major unionized booksellers. If you go to Powell’s through this OUL link and purchase anything there, a small percentage in commission for the sale goes to the OUL.
The site is organized into academic departments-each with dozens of video lecture and documentaries, achieves with the entire range of theory and analysis of hundred of writers, and study guides and course outlines.
Make use of it! In the future, we will also pursue the usual package of fundraising efforts-donations, small and large, grant writing, public events, benefit dinners and so on. In the meantime, lend a hand by using the `Donate’ button at http://cc-ds.org. Once again, check out the site itself at http://ouleft.org. If you want to link your own materials to it or make suggestions, contact Carl Davidson at firstname.lastname@example.org
Statement of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, March 24, 2012
March 20, 2012 marks nine years since the US invasion of Iraq. US troops have left that country but thousands of State Department security personnel and military contractors remain. The situation in the Middle East remains tense, dangerous and volatile, with many factors pointing towards greater conflict in Syria, Palestine and elsewhere.
US policy continues to be driven by those seeking to secure oil interests and strategic hegemony in the region. They now aim at regime change in Iran, a regional power and the world’s second largest oil exporter.
The loudest voices for war call for a US/Israeli military attack on Iran’s nuclear installations. Prominent in war agitation are the Israeli government, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), US rightwingers and neocons, and Republican presidential candidates vying with one another to get the most pro-Israel votes. These hawks argue that a military strike would be quick and limited and set back the alleged Iranian nuclear weapons program, saving Israel from the supposed existential threat.
Many US (and Israeli) military analysts, however, warn of possible Iranian retaliation widening into a costly and potentially vast regional war — as Iran is a much bigger and resourceful country than Iraq. Such a war would deal a grievous blow to the peoples concerned, to progressive movements and immediately eliminate any thoughts of cutting the US military budget and funding social programs.
The Obama administration has stated it has no current plans to attack Iran but maintains a posture of threats and intimidation by insisting "all options are on the table." Israel’s intentions are murky; Israel may calculate that a military strike would inevitably draw US support, especially in an election year. Moreover, the US strategy already in place of tough economic sanctions is causing suffering among the Iranian people and portends possible confrontation ahead.
Assassination of Iranian scientists and agitation for regime change are acts of war. A large US naval presence patrolling the Persian Gulf may lead to an unplanned incident that could spiral out of control. The Iranian leadership may over-react to these numerous provocations. Thus there is a very real danger of US involvement in another major Middle Eastern war even if the Obama administration would like to avoid it.
CCDS calls for dialogue and diplomacy to settle international problems: not war or sanctions against Iran; and US military aid to Israel should end. The UN-approved nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East points the way to security for all nations. In such a zone, no country, including Israel, could possess nuclear weapons and the US would not be allowed to bring such weapons into the region on naval forces. Every Middle East country except Israel favors a nuclear free zone. CCDS calls upon its members and friends to support this initiative and the UFPJ pledge of resistance to stop a war on Iran, see www.unitedforpeace.org
[Special thanks to Duncan McFarland and our CCDS Peace and Solidarity Committee for working on this.]
The Mass Movement in 2012
CCDS members are and should continue to be involved in the mass democratic activity to defeat the far right that will likely grow over the coming months. Elections and electoral campaigns will largely frame the national discourse at the national, state and local level in the following ways:
Labor-community-religious coalitions will be key forms for the electoral struggle at the working class base. United Wisconsin and other state based coalitions in defense of collective bargaining, PDA, WFP and similar organizations or parties will play significant roles in independent electoral and progressive activity.
Struggles for democracy and equality and against racism injected by the far right into the election campaign are at a new and virulent level. “Poor” is the new code word for Black and immigrant, even though most poor people are white. Coded in racism also are Republican attacks on food stamps and social benefits, their campaign for draconian laws against immigrants and glorification of executions and the death penalty.
Struggles against restrictive voting laws that disenfranchise the poor and people of color. Struggle for a new movement against the death penalty, the mass incarceration of Black, Latino and low income people, and the prison-industrial complex, which is the main instrument of the ruling class today in re-imposing Jim Crow racism and segregation on our society and splitting the working class.
Single issue organizations and coalitions of trade unions, peace, health care, civil rights, living wage coalitions, women’s rights, seniors, civil liberties, immigrant rights and others will organize to bring pressure on candidates and work in get-out-the-vote activity. The Rebuild the Dream, National People’s Action, the Occupy movement and many other local and state based efforts will rally to bring pressure to bear on issues and candidates.
Building new grass roots electoral forms and social movements based on a peace and economic justice agenda, opposing militarism and wars of intervention including in Afghanistan and sanctions against Iran, moving the money from military to programs for living wage jobs, a sustainable environment, Medicare for all health care, education without debt, affordable housing, and strengthening state budgets to preserve public services.
Role of CCDS
Work to unite sectors and movements through the above electoral and mass democratic forms. Consciously work to build unity of movements of African American, white, Latinos, Caribbean, Asians/Pacific Islander and Native Americans, youth and seniors, men and women, lesbian and gay, and immigrant peoples
Work to promote a peace and economic justice agenda as stated above
Issue a CCDS statement on importance of the Elections and the stake for working people and progressive, democratic forces
Work to promote ideological work and educational forms of CCDS to bring activists from the mass movement to CCDS through local study groups, discussion groups and forums utilizing the DVD “Fundamental Topics in Democracy and Socialism”, material from the “Long March for Democracy” material of the Democracy Charter committee, the On Line University of the Left, CCDS Links, Portside, etc.
In building left unity, CCDS should take concrete measures for common and coordinated efforts in the mass movement continuing efforts that began with the July 2009 symposium in San Francisco in conjunction with the CCDS 6th national convention. Local areas should reach out to socialist and communist parties/organizations that share a common perspective on the electoral struggle to discuss areas of common work in the mass movement for more effective organizing.