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We Need New Priorities


Around the world electoral campaigns and mass movements have newly attracted millions of people to progressive social and political expression. Imagine a thousand club wielding police in the street to repress dissent in New York, Cleveland, San Francisco, Seattle, Atlanta, Chicago, Paris, London, Barcelona, Rome, Berlin, Athens, Moscow, Caracas, São Paulo, Santiago, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Johannesburg, Kinshasa, Lagos, Cairo, Mumbai, Delhi, Karachi, Tokyo, Manila, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Bangkok, Seoul, and on and on. Would you bet most of their sons and daughters would identify with their parents seeking control, or with the dissent from below?

Every steadfast long-term leftist sees huge dissent and, in reply, says we need the new dissidents to become more broad in their aims and be more committed to sustained activism. Beyond electoral campaigns, single issue movements, narrow solidarity campaigns, and merely expressing anger and opposition, we need to establish a broad, rich, multi-focus, and multi-tactic positive approach that will persist past next week, next month, and next year. No dissipation. No surrender.

But does each seasoned leftist then ask, What can I do to help electoral organizing, single issue campaigns, and narrow solidarity projects become sustained struggles that will persist, diversify, and grow?

Here are three steps to consider:

1. Conceive and collectively adopt multi-issue programs demanding both short- and long-term policy and institutional changes.

2. Create sustainable organizations to pursue our aims collectively without succumbing to sectarianism, without succumbing to the habits of hierarchy, and without becoming insular and narrow.

3. Develop tactical clarity about how to arrive at our agendas, how to reach out and attract participation from people who aren’t already seeking change, and how to effectively pressure existing structures for change.

If the above achievements are at least necessary, shouldn’t they be forefront in our daily left priorities? Indeed, shouldn’t this be true not just for a few seasoned leftists occasionally, but for nearly all seasoned leftists nearly all the time?

We seasoned leftists rightly bemoan that past progressive electoral efforts – and also large-scale but narrowly focused movements – haven’t had staying power. We point out how it is due to the intrinsic pit falls of elections and narrow movements, but isn’t it also partly due to seasoned leftists not helping folks get beyond those pitfalls?

If we look back over the years, don’t we have to admit that while we seasoned leftists have tirelessly repeated over and over what we despise about existing society, we have far less often indicated what we desire for a better future society and how we might win a trajectory of changes leading from one to the other?

More precisely, if the three points noted above are essential steps toward having coherent and lasting activism, then shouldn’t we seasoned leftists write, speak, and organize on behalf of sharing program, pursuing organizational insights and creation, and attaining tactical creativity?

It isn’t that none of this happens, of course, or that no one tries, and there have been signs recently that more attention is being paid – but still, haven’t our efforts been too sparse?

How often do we write what is essentially the same essay, give the same talk, or argue the same points already made repeatedly for decades? How often do we tell people what they already know? How often do we convey what people don’t know but do it in a way people will not accept because it lacks inspiring aims and methods?

One attempt to help move toward movement sustainability and coherence is an initiative titled “Some Possible Ideas for Going Forward” recently offered by 86 well-seasoned leftists from around the world. It has been posted on a number of sites online, including: ZNet, ROAR, Counter Currents, teleSUR English, TruthOut, CounterPunch, Real News, and Portside.
The document seeks to inspire a widespread discussion of multi issue left program. It is not comprehensive, but invites amendment, refinement, addition, and deletion.

In reacting to this initiative, people could work to improve its suggestions, to connect emerging program to longer-term aims and vision, to indicate conditions for an organization that would facilitate pursuing new program, or to address tactics for doing so.
In other words, the document is a jumping off place suitable for addressing whether this moment becomes a brief interlude that dissipates, or a lasting basis for sustained struggle to win a new society.

I hope seasoned leftists will lend their energies to the three steps, but, even more so, I hope folks who have never written before, or who have never given a public talk before, or who have never organized a project or event before, will do so now. If social media is a wonderful tool for reaching out and establishing new commitments, as I am told it is, I hope people who know how to use it effectively will use it to those ends. I know that writing and speaking can be wonderful tools for reaching out and establishing new commitments, and I hope people will use those too.

I am not saying that articles, talks, blogs, comments, and whatever else pointing out what is wrong with Trump or whoever else, or describing how war devastates, or explaining how poverty subjugates, or revealing how racism and sexism debilitate, or bemoaning how capitalism and ecological instability annihilate, or that address where these ills come from and why and how they invade all sides of life, are bad. What I am saying is that right now, while important, such interventions are already in incredible abundance and no matter how many more are added they will remain very far from sufficient. What is now needed are articles and talks and whatever else that seek to arrive at shared program, vision, organizational wisdom and commitments, and tactical insights.

So – seasoned leftists, and indeed everyone who wants currently growing activist potentials to persist – what are we going to do about that under supply?

6 Comments

  1. Chris Reed April 16, 2016 9:55 pm 

    I have been reading Z Magazine since it first came out. AfterI check out Counterpunch, my next step is Znet. I also browse numerous other left sights, and a few right-wing ones, as well as the local Charleston Gazette-Mail. I have started conversations with various authors through e-mail.
    I am currently running for the House of Delegates in West Virginia-the likely Democrat nominee is a veteran staffer of retired Senator Rockefeller. I feel that my strength rests with my ability to address a multitudinal of issues. Instead of focusing on the usual signs in the yard and jobs, I plan to reach out to the Left nationally and international. I always found the Rockefeller Dynasty to be an afront, and taking on one of his staffers is the next best thing-Rockefeller retired to the CFR and the Asia Society.

  2. David Dobereiner April 16, 2016 9:16 pm 

    The three points seem very sensible. And its good there are only 3. Some new short slogan, as a bumper sticker or banner might be good. ‘Enough is enough’…..is probably not enough. ‘from each according to their ability to each according to their need’….too old hat probably.

  3. avatar
    David Jones April 16, 2016 2:35 pm 

    As a “seasoned leftist” I actually disagree with this analysis and the suggested strategy that results. But where is this dialogue/debate supposed to take place? In this comment thread? On social media? At the Left Forum in NYC?
    Wasn’t IOPS exactly this “attempt to arrive at shared vision”, where all those “writers” were going to have a real open debate? And what about the Next System Project, aren’t they trying to do exactly what you are talking about here? So why duplicate efforts, why not have all those leftist writers join in that already established dialogue and project?

    • avatar
      Mark Evans April 16, 2016 9:34 pm 

      Some points, David:
      1) It might be helpful to know what you disagree about, exactly.
      2) IOPS did not work and it seems clear to me that, although in a similar spirit, this new initiate is taking a different approach.
      3) It would be interesting read a blog that compared the Possible Ideas for Going Forward statement and the Next System Project statement.

      • avatar
        James April 16, 2016 11:23 pm 

        IOPS nay not have worked in the way intended but the website is still functioning and a possible place for discussion Mark. It is often that old dilapidated spaces get utilised for productive work.

        It’s also a place where comparative ideas between the Next System Project and Possible Ideas could get discussed considering posts concerning both initiatives have already been published there.

        Jesus, it’s like just because things didn’t work out there as intended, we’ll all desert the place and try to find some other avenue, while a perfectly good website, which costs money, lies dormant. It makes no sense.

        You could write a blog there Mark seeing as you are still a member, about both projects. One document outlining what appear to be transitional policy reforms that head towards what the NSP is trying to do. I’ve been writing to Joe Guinan for a while now, pointing out what I see as flaws. I posted the possible ideas doc at IOPS.

        Why don’t you write a blog and you post it there even if you can’t be bothered responding to any discussion that might eventuate because you feel IOPS was meant for something else. Get involved in trying to revitalise the org and site and at the same time promote what about classism.

        Nothing to lose.

    • avatar
      Michael Albert April 18, 2016 2:31 pm 

      Actually, I am part of the next system project, which I hope people will relate to. Participation at the level of writing is by invite, however, I think…and it is not what this is about, in any event. This is about you and others – not just well known writers, though them too, by all means, but seasoned activist, meaning organizers too, grass roots demonstratrators, too, people in campaigns, single issue movements, and on and on…and, for that matter, new folks…

      Think not just Sanders, for example, or Corbyn, or whoever, nor their advisers and so on, but everyone aroused by them, hopeful. Not just the however many folks who gave talks at occuply events, say, or wrote about them, but all those who attended…and so on. Perhaps writers – seasoned writers – would need to be significantly involved at the outset of a widespread reorienting of focus, so the efforts are visible, for example, but ultimately the issue isn’t them/us – it is way more folks.

      Okay, all that aside, what do you disagree with – something in this essay?

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