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WHAT DO WE WANT? AND WHO ARE “WE”?


Doug Dowd

Alongside

and arising from "Seattle" and subsequent protests are questions such

as the above — by those participating in and supporting, and those against the

protests.  Those and related questions have always deserved serious

answers; now more than ever.  The response here cannot be more than a

sketch.

First,

on the matter of demonstrations as such.  There is no question of their

necessity:  they are educational for all, mind-openers for many; they often

effectuate changes over time that go beyond causing those on high to put on a

nicer face; they strengthen the organizations that bring them about and add

greatly to the numbers of those perceiving the need to change the system.

However. 

Necessary they are, sufficient they are not.  I am reminded of the antiwar

days, when I was always a member of the steering committee of "the Mobe,"

which, as some will remember, organized most of the national demos.  In our

meetings I would usually raise the question "And what about the day after

the demo?"  My oft-repeated question had no effect (except that I came

to be called "TDA Dowd," and not always with affection).  There

can be no doubt that the antiwar demos played a vital role in preventing the USA

from winning in Vietnam; but one must also pay atention to the ugly fact that

well before the war ended, the Right in the USA was becoming stronger and we

were becoming weaker — fighting amongst ourselves, decreasingly able even to

mount strong demostrations.  So, once more:  and TDA?

It

has been intrinsic to left political activity that we spend almost all of our

time and energy in fighting "against," rather than "for." 

There is always a crisis or ongoing tragedy to struggle atainst:  before

World War II, against fascism (if also for unions); after it, against the

union-weakening Taft-Hartley Act, McCarthyism and the Cold War, against racism

and sexism and homophobia, against Vietnam…; now, against globalization.  

Whether

we said it or knew it or not, all those fights were against the same thing, of

course:  a socioeconomic system that depends upon, creates, and feeds

exploitation, inequality, repression and oppression, here and everywhere; that

endlessly seeks and finds all the means necessary to slake its ravenous appetite

for profits and power:  come what may.  But (and except for a few

small and rival groups) we have not sought, let alone developed, a movement to

fight for an alternative system.

So,

what do "we" want?  And who ARE we?  What can be said to

those who jump on us for being well-fed, witless and fun-seeking troublemakers

– "outside agitators" — intermittently getting high on a political

spree?  More importantly, what can we say to ourselves?

It

is important to start with who "we"are, not just for purposes of

identification, but for our analyses and politics.  We are all the peopols

of the world; all those who suffer from the centuries-old and continuing

fuctions of capitalism; who suffer from exploitation and material deprivation to

the point (for some billions) of dreadfully shortened lives; that vast majority,

in both rich and poor countries, whose lives are shaped to fit the needs of

capital, which requires that human, social and environmental needs are stifled,

warped, ignored; who suffer, directly and indirectly, from the systematic and

universal commodification of everything and everyone — of our education, our

health, our cultures, our politics; who suffer, all of us, both from the loss of

vital elements of our humanity that can never be regained in this social system,

ruled over as it is by mentalities and characters combining those of gangsters

and fraternity boys.

Now

then, what do we want?  The answer to that should begin by changing

"want" to "need."  It is popular to denigrate Marx

these days; but — and in addition to his other great strengths — his standard

for the ideal society was just right:  "From each according to

ability, to each according to need."   What do all human beings

(and their diverse societies, and Mother Nature) NEED?  As I have remarked

elsewhere, in the entire corpus of economic theory, one will search in vain for

the word "need": it is a four-letter — dirty — word.  Instead,

the focus of theory is how we serve capital by selling ourselves and buying

their products — not in such blunt language, to be sure; better for the

self-image of both economists and capital to spin ugly realities into

unintelligible equations.

What

do we need?  There will be nothing new here (and much else could be added):

1. 

Everyone — everywhere — needs full-scale health care, "womb to

tomb," as the pre-Thatcherite British put it.

2. 

Everyone — everywhere — nees easy access to an educational system that

includes but goes well beyond training, in order that the creative and

constructive possibilities of our species can be nourished, not suppressed.

3. 

There is no excuse whatsoever for anyone — anwhere — to have less than an

adequate diet.

4. 

Nor can any of these or other needs be met unless we all do something that WE

need to do:  to learn what we need to know whil also UNlearning the

system’s "wisdom"; to spend substantial amounts of our (much-wasted)

time and energy working with and developing a politics of the people, a

politics going beyond what we have, comprising the needsa and possiblities of

all wage-earners, irrespective of the color of their collar or skin, their

gender or age or continent — and, as well, the needs of the many millions of

owners of family farms and other small businesses.  It will be objected

that many of these are employers, exploitative themselves; but it must be

noted that some notable percentage of these business people are anything but

"capitalists"; in their small stores or workshops (etc.); they too

are oppressed and victimized by giant firms; more often than not, the low net

incomes and long hours of their businesses are part of an often futile attempt

to maintain some kind of independence and dignity.  They can be among our

allies if we let it be known that we are not among their enemies.  To all

the foregoing, one may add rising numbers of doctors, engineers and other

professionals, on their way to recognizing that the giants are striding on

their once-privileged terrain.   Has anyone been excluded? 

Yes:  those in the catbird seats of the big corporations and of Wall

Street (and their inheritors), or those who seek to be.   When the

time comes, we may weep for them.

And

this must be added:  Having begun with "wage-earners," a moment’s

focus on organized labor is here essential.  The bottom line for capital’s

bottom line always has been and remains its ability to exploit workers (now

added to by its media-created abilities to to "exploit" consumers and

taxpayers).  Thus the organization of workers into unions is the main

menace to capital’s profits and power.  Whatever else we struggle for, we

must support unions and unionization; otherwise, there can be no effective

movement.

That

said, the history of unionism in the USA,  bothersome though it has been to

capital, has never constituted a major threat.  That is because U.S.

workers only rarely, and never effectively, have gone beyond creating a trade

union movement toward creating a labor movement.  The distinction is

critical.

A

trade union seeks better wages, working conditions and benefits for its members

– all absolutely necessary, all to be supported.  The constitutent unions

of a labor movement do all that, also; but a labor movement also fights to

improve the conditions of the people as a whole, seeks to achieve the political

power to create an economically and socially democratic society, using the tools

of political democracy.  The USA is unique among the major capitalist

nations in never having had a labor movement:  to the great advantage of

capital.  That absence helps to explain to the lack of solidarity between

well-organized workers and all others, how easy it has been and is for capital

to exploit the differences among us, and to lead us to direct our aim at each

other instead of them.  Or to do nothing.  Thus:

1. 

Racism and sexism have only rarely been fought against by or in U.S. unions,

even though the existence of  both weakens the unions themselves (apart

from other considerations).

2. 

Unions’ concernsd with economy as a while has been limited at best, harmful at

worst.  The latter was exemplified  in the late 1940s when in the

bargaining between the UAW and GM, Walter Reuther (among the best of U.S.

union leaders) gave up the fight to keep GM from raising its prices and,

instead, helped to create the contract provision that  provided auto

workers’ wages would rise along with inflation ("COLA").  That

provision soon spread to all collective bargaining, its outcome that

inflation’s pains would be least for the strongest workers and greatest for

the weakest.

3. 

Effective links between U.S. unions and the organized and unorganized workers

abroad have always been weak (even in  the "international

unions"), and usually non-existent.  That was a serious problem in

the past; nowadays it may well  mean slow death.  Most dramatically

is that likely to be so for the "hottest" industry all — computer

hardware and  software production.  Much-discussed in the industry

today is that the combination of existing and growing skills, capital, and

extremely low wages in (most clearly) India and China threatens soon to make

the "downsizing and  outsourcing" of the automobile industry

(among others) seem like a summer cold, compared to the possibility of  a

wholesale displacement of that production to the poor countries. 

"Workers of the world, unite!" was once a great  slogan; now it

is a life or death imperative.

4. 

And then there was organized labor’s combination of complacency and complicity

in the Cold War, not least as  regarded Vietnam.   Traditional

nationalism combined with what was seen as enlightened self-interest in

ongoing  military expenditures — even though worrkers ranked high

among the ar’s casualties.

Thus,

just as those outside the trade union movement must support those inside it,

uinions and their members must do likewise in the other direction, must support

the many struggles against exploitation, oppression and repression at home and

abroad.  There are hopeful signs in both directions nowadays — most

clearly in Seattle.  But, as with everything else noted above, there is a

long, long road ahead.

That

road must be traversed more quickly, more thoughtfully, and more energetically

than ever before in our history.  Tens of millions even in thes richest

country in the world are living on or over the edge of desperation; for many

billions in the rest of the world desperation has moved to calamity.  And

all that may well be but a prelude to considerably more disastrous developments.

The

presumed achievements of globalization have been accompanied by — have required

– the already high and always rising fragility of national economies and of the

intensely globalized framework within which they now operate and upon which

their continued "health" depends.It is a certainty that a recession

awaits, despite the euphoria about the uniqueness of  "the new

economy." Where a recession will begin cannot be known, nor is it that

important, given the tight integration of the global economy.  Whether it

will begin with a "soft" or a "hard landing" is just as

unimportant:  that of 1929, it has been forgotten, began with a "soft

landing," a minor recession; the roller coaster ride to its full depths was

not reached until 1933.  Today’s world economy is considerably more

dominated by speculative finance than anything earlier; Humpty Dumpty is in for

a great fall.

Keeping

in mind what happened — economically, socially, politically, militarily — in

the decade after 1929 (and remembering the euphoria preceding it), that suggests

that we, and many more than we, must step and greatly alter our poltical

efforts.  Demonstrations must be seen as part of an uninterrupted movement,

a movement always broadending and deepening in its scope and its purposes, its

purposes, and its strengths.  And, it needs saying, even were there NEVER

to be a slump, "we" need to create another world; this one stinks.

 

 

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