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?