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Socialism is a Wise Old Shepard


As I travel across the US, I meet young people who are in this or that progressive organization. They are busy doing the necessary everyday work of building our movement. Most of them work in the non-profit sector, doing some kind of single-issue organizing. A few of them are part of a political organization, even one of the many Left parties. Their enthusiasm for the struggle is infectious. I was recently in Los Angeles, for an event organized by the Community-Labor Strategy Center, which is also the home of the five thousand member strong Bus Riders Union. Here I met several organizers and activists, most of who are in the second decade of their lives. They come from a variety of class positions, and represent the Rainbow. In many ways, these organizers are similar to those who nudge along our various social movements across the country. What keeps them going? We suffer defeat after defeat, and only the occasional victory. For a hundred years till the 1960s, the social movements fought valiantly to demand that the social wage be tendered toward all people. We won some of these demands (such as the end to Jim Crow conditions), but lost too many of them (such as universal childcare).

Nevertheless, the general dynamic of the fight to enhance the social wage (what we otherwise call the Civil Rights struggles) had a considerable victory. Since then the social movements have been in disarray, and yet we continue to struggle. While in LA, I picked up the Strategy Center’s 2002 document, “Toward a Program of Resistance,” that furnishes a useful start to a national dialogue on how to move us forward (it is available at www.ahoranow.org ). It recognizes that the political terrain has altered, that the State has abdicated its relationship to society and allowed the “market” to delegate what the “social wage” demanded. This fundamental change has to be registered or else we will simply spin our wheels trying to get an unresponsive State to create better laws that it does not have the will or the capacity to enforce. To get to this level of political analysis, our movement needs to recognize one very important point put forward by the Strategy Center: that we need a program of action, or at any rate we need to discuss the importance of programmatic thought rather than rely upon pragmatic interest-based or single-issue driven political campaigns. The latter exhausts us because it does not explain why our fights (against the war, for instance) are related to other fights (for jobs, for instance), and why each of these is a necessary part of the other. Because the social movements won gains in the 1960s, and because of the shifts in the State’s relationship with society since then, we have not been able to create a new horizon for struggle and change. Struggle around the creation of a program will perhaps allow us to create that new horizon. The idea of linkage between struggles is very popular, even among those who work in donor-driven organizations that insist upon single-issue reform work as the antidote to a quixotic anti-capitalism. At its best, the idea of the “coalition” is an implicit critique of single-issue reformism. To be always alert to the inter-sections between race, gender, class, sexuality and other axes is to seek out ways to understand how one struggle is related to another. This alertness is an embedded call for a political program, an elaborated charter of principles for another world. To create integral connections between struggles is important for two reasons. It shows us how those who struggle against police brutality, for instance, are not far from the fight for full employment. These two fights are joined not only because they represent two assaults on the system, but also because such morbid symptoms (police brutality, unemployment) directly stem from the barbarity of capitalism. In other words, a program shows us how two seemingly disparate struggles are objectively related to the fight against capitalism, and they therefore demand a concrete alliance between the two social forces that can be organized on either platform. The struggle against unemployment furthers the struggle against police brutality, and so on. The production of the Strategy Center’s document began with reference to a political concept, and to a question that emerges from that. The concept is this, that the Strategy Center’s “unity as a group is based on a common commitment to antiracist organizing in the United States set within an internationalist framework.” The question that this begs is this, “What does it mean to situate antiracist struggles within the larger strategy of building an international united front against imperialism?” The “program of resistance” offers a detailed analysis of the broad structural condition of imperialism, of the politics of our current conjuncture, of the available resources to the Left for struggle, and from this basis it provides a series of strategic demands (around which it sets some focal campaigns). For instance, in the section on the US responsibility for the subjugation of women around the planet, the document offers a strategic demand for the US government and corporations to “take action to advance economic, cultural and political independence for women. We call upon the US government to act affirmatively against state-sanctioned forms of misogyny, discrimination, subjugation, including sexual and economic brutality, and male supremacy against women.” The focal campaigns include an end to the trafficking in women, particularly at US bases, that the US government ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, reinstate AFDC, end all practices of “population control,” and on. In the broad opening analysis of imperialism, we already see how liberation for women is rooted in the liberation from the commodity economy, and the focal campaigns clarify this further. The “program of resistance” offers “an alternative set of possible political choices that, taken together, create a vision of a more just and humane world society.” What the document does not address is that many of those who read it will assume that the current configuration of the State is sufficient as an instrument to ratify these demands. As it is, our State, the bourgeois-military State, already acknowledges some of these demands in abstraction. It is already for equal rights and for freedom, but only in the abstraction. The State is not an independent actor who, if controlled by the right sort of people, will deliver justice to the people. Our movement has to be clear on this: that we seek to radically transfer the social basis of the State, and its mode of organization.

The document recognizes this limitation, for it points out that its purpose is to “plant seeds of change in a counter-hegemonic program that captures our imaginations and can motivate masses of people to envision ‘the possible.’” We have to be unambiguous, however, that “the possible” can only be realized when the institutions of the present society are reconfigured. Or else we shall merely echo the old familiar “democratic” litany that baffles people into the view that history has ended with this form of State. In 1978, the South African communist Ruth First, who was assassinated by the South African secret armed forces while in Mozambique, criticized the tendency to “revolutionary puritanism which is fluent on important notions of revolution, but which fails to make connections in political practice between immediate demands which mobilize, or more spontaneously ignite mass struggles, and the longer-term program conception of the revolutionary alternative society” (Review of African Political Economy, January/April 1978). If we wait around for the perfect program for struggle and blueprint for a future society, we will abandon the process of social change and sit on our hands. Programs develop from the heart of the struggle, as the fights sharpen points of contradiction and reveal new lines of advance. “The point about the practice of mass struggles,” First continues, “is that revolutionary programs have to be won not only in the head, but in the streets, townships, factories and countryside, and by engaging in struggle, not abstaining from it because it does not start with a perfected long-term program.” Along this grain, the “program of resistance” notes, “As history has shown us, the forces we believe are required cannot be willed into being, they must and will evolve out of existing forms of struggle. Yet, the burden on social movements to make history has never been greater. We believe that a key link in the evolution of a unified antiracist, anti-imperialist tendency in the US Left ­ especially at this historic juncture ­ is the articulation of oppositional proposals, which can be exchange, explored, debated and tested in practice.” See you in DC on September 24. Read the “program of resistance” on the bus.

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