In Issue 8 of The New School’s student newspaper, The Free Press, Adam Solomon published an article criticizing the Students for a Democratic Society (see below). In Issue 9 of The Free Press, I published a short response. Due to limited space, I was only able to respond to Solomon’s belief that revolutionary change in America is unnecessary, undesirable, and impossible. I will be publishing a full-length response to all the criticisms his article raised in the near future.
Revolution From Below
By Pat Korte
In Issue 8 of The Free Press, Adam Solomon published an article criticizing the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and young leftists in general, for seeking to transform our society’s defining values and institutions utilizing means that extend beyond the electoral arena. Solomon appears to believe that systematic change is both impossible and unnecessary in the United States, but he is wrong. Revolution in this country is not only possible, it’s long overdue.
Most Americans are familiar with the reality of our political and economic systems of representative "democracy" and free-market capitalism: they yield the expansion and protection of power, privilege, and property for an elite minority at the expense of the liberty, dignity, and fulfillment of the hard-working majority. What is necessary to change this state of affairs is a fundamental transformation in all spheres of social organization: a social revolution. Any change short of revolution leaves the defining and inherently oppressive features of these systems intact.
What are the characteristics of the revolutionary process? What are the tasks for revolutionary leftists in the 21st century? What will bring about this revolution I speak of?
• The formation of organizations that represent and unite diverse constituencies with a wide-range of priorities. These organizations must develop an analysis of the world in which we live, a vision for the future, and a strategic program. In particular, these organizations must arouse radical consciousness among a majority of the population, build strong ties with communities, develop cross-organizational solidarity, provide resources, training, and education for activists, and develop leadership among oppressed peoples.
• The winning of progressive reforms that weaken the power of oppressive institutions, improve the day-to-day conditions people must endure, and strengthen the ability of the movement to challenge elites for power.
• The creation of alternative institutions that prefigure the social relations of a participatory and egalitarian society. These institutions must be built to prove the viability of a new form of social organization, as well as to provide inspiration and hope.
• The taking of power! The organizations of the people must come together as a revolutionary bloc – a new society in formation – to dismantle the institutions of the old order and implement the values and institutions of the new society in workplaces, communities, schools, and all areas of social life.
It is through the successful implementation of the above program that I believe revolution can occur. Though it is a bumpy road to victory, the violence, poverty, and exploitation that currently defines our society can be overcome and a far more meaningful existence for our people can become a reality. Noam Chomsky correctly points out that "there are no limits to what can be done…There are big efforts to make people feel helpless, as if there is some kind of mysterious economic law that forces things to happen in a particular way, like the law of gravitation or whatever. This is just nonsense. These are all human institutions, they are subject to human will, and they can be eliminated like other tyrannical institutions have been." Solomon is correct in stating that "inspiration can come from someone within our political system." However, it is naive to believe that the political elite of this country will ever give us more than inspiration. It is naive to believe that politicians and capitalists will peacefully and willingly forsake their power, privilege, and property. It is naive to believe that the president of this country – no matter how progressive the rhetoric – will bring justice and equality to this nation. Change comes from the people. Revolution comes from below. In conclusion, we must answer the question posed to us by Senator Obama, "Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or a politics of hope?"
Revolution From Within
By Adam Solomon
America needs to “escape the shadow of 1968” and “move on.” Or at least that’s what an article in the January 5 issue of The Economist said.
One comment that should be stirring to most New School students is this quote from the article: “America has changed greatly since 1968. Students are worried about getting jobs rather than changing the system. The anti-war demonstrations have been insignificant compared with the draft-fueled marches of the 1960s.” This perception of our generation is that we are go-getters fully entrenched in the system. The New York Times consistently puts forth articles about how hard young people are working to get into top colleges, and recently published a supplement devoted to how to get good internships as a college student.
The New York Times also recently covered the revival of SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) and interviewed the leaders of SDS here at The New School. SDS was founded in the mid 1960s and fell apart in 1969, officially disbanding in 1972.
Students in the article were quoted complaining about capitalism and expressed the need for a political outlet beyond the Democratic Party. The U.S. economy will not be derailed by a group of student protesters, no matter how large. The same goes for the two-party system.
The disappointing part of reading the article on SDS was that there was no mention from members of an immediate desire to achieve some common good, or to help anyone. Their goal seems to be to radically re-define the economy and politics of the U.S., and start from scratch. There are problems with the system, as there always will be, but there is also great possibility to change it. There are elections every year, and young people can enter most of them as candidates. We must address health care, welfare and our host of international problems before trying to take down the system.
If we want to change the perception of our generation, we have to do more than steal the name of a club our parents built. Young people need to present an identity that they have made themselves, not one they have borrowed.
We can assume the majority of The New School will vote democrat in the upcoming presidential election. The democratic candidate will likely be either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. This is a choice between generations: Hillary, the boomer candidate, or Obama, who in response to being asked about 1960s and 70s politics said, “That all sort of passed me by.”
The current administration does not listen to protest. George Bush has told reporters that he gets advice from God. To affect the political scene in America, we need to enter the system, but with fresh ideas and hope, as Barack Obama has. U.S. Congressman Mike McNulty, of upstate New York, was his town’s superintendent at age 22. Protest from within the system rather than firing up people about “revolution.” Anyone at the Obama rally in Washington Square Park this fall saw that if done correctly, inspiration can come from someone within our political system too.