Some members of the U.S. socialist organization Solidarity, of which
I am a member, have written me privately expressing disappointment,
even distress in reaction to my post from Sunday about the paralysis
of this organization, and the collapse of [what looks like from
where I sit] its centralized functioning, especially the incapacity
of the National Committee, Political Committee, National Office and
National Staff to maintain in operation something as basic as an
As a way of explaining my stance, let me fill in some of the
background: Prior to last summer's national convention, I was of the
opinion that in the best of all possible worlds, Solidarity might
continue as some sort of network or association of comrades but one
that recognized that it was not the political organization that
could unite and be the main political identity, standard or vehicle
for strategic dialogue and reflection of revolutionary socialists
today. And that it could not become that group nor
organically flow into such a formation.
The reason for that conclusion is that the proof of the pudding is
in the eating. Coming out of our previous convention in the summer
of 2011, Solidarity proved incapable of orienting to the Occupy Wall
AFAIK, Solidarity, like pretty much all of the previously-existing
socialist groups, did not even gain a SINGLE new member from a
social and political phenomenon that drew new people into explicitly
anti-capitalist protests by the tens of thousands, including many
thousands who were willing to be arrested for the cause.
And in the specific case of the Atlanta metropolitan area, it blew
up the local Solidarity branch sky high, not just its formal members
but a periphery of a couple of dozen people. We wound up having
totally divergent strategic and tactical visions of the Occupy
Suffice it to say that it was a very close Solidarity sympathizer
and a then-alternate member of our NC who succeeded in preventing
Congressman John Lewis, former chair of SNCC and as such the now
sole surviving member of the "big six" civil rights leaders of the
early 1960s from speaking for a minute or two to the first big OWS
"General Assembly" in Atlanta to give this movement his endorsement.
Even though it was a former Solidarity member, and now a very
successful organizer for the Teamsters, who got John Lewis (who just
happened to be there after taking part in a different event) to
offer to say a few words to the General Assembly, since earlier in
the day his office had sent out a press release hailing the Occupy
For my part, a member of Soli's NC at the time, the only thing that
kept me from leaving in disgust (as many if not most Black folks
did) is that I had to wait for my 17-year-old son to show up, as we
had agreed to meet at the event.
Were one to search for an illustration of the term "utterly and
completely useless," I'd be hard pressed to come up with a better
example than the role of people in and around Solidarity at that
event, where a mostly-white "General Assembly" in a mostly Black
city generally considered the capital of Black America told the
area's most prestigious and respected Black elected official, one
who had been overwhelmingly re-elected to Congress a dozen times,
give or take, to take his support for the movement and shove it.
The role of Soli-linked folks in the event isn't surprising, since
in Atlanta, in the post 9-11 period, Soli folks have been central or
prominent, leading figures in various movements here, including
union organizing, antiwar, Palestine solidarity, immigrant rights
and student anti-cutbacks agitation. No other socialist organization
comes close to this record.
I cite this not as mitigation, but to emphasize that as an
organization, WE SUCK.
"Clusterfuck" is only a first and very mild approximation to how I'd
summarize more than a decade of on-and-off association with Soli
here. And I don't think this is peculiar to Atlanta, but my gut
feeling is that it is inherent in the group.
So that was the reason why, leading up to last summer's Solidarity
convention, I was trying to figure out a way to put into a single
proposal three related ideas:
- our general "from below" movement-building approach works and we
should keep it
- our organization building approach totally sucks and we should
- let's stay (loosely) together to make the transition to a new
group easier (when we find a group)
That's the balance sheet and approach I would have presented to the
last Solidarity convention, held in Chicago at the end of July last
*However, before convention, it became clear to me that a group of
younger comrades were organizing to push the organization in some
sort of new direction. I decided to defer to their efforts to
replace the group's bankrupt existing leadership (which I had been a
part of). At the convention, I did my damndest to get comrades from
my generation to accept responsibility for our failures by declining
nomination to the incoming NC.
This effort to change Solidarity's leadership was successful.
Some of the comrades who had played the most visible roles in this
change had long been identified with a proposal to update the
organization's 12-point "basis of political agreement" and this
became a priority for the incoming leadership.
The form this took was peculiar. The convention approved
with no real discussion (either there or in preconvention
discussion) 10 (I think it was 10) one sentence points of political
agreement, but not the paragraphs below each point fleshing them
out. The proposal from the new layer of leading comrades was to have
a referendum on the detailed text.
Because I had informally expressed my discomfort, comrades in the
new leadership encouraged me, and in reality cajoled and pressured
me, to propose changes to the text and/or express the reasons for my
disquiet in a more systematic way. (BTW, this has ALWAYS been my
experience in Solidarity: dissent is welcomed and respected.)
I was reluctant but after the convention, as the weeks went by with,
if anything, even less coherence in Solidarity's functioning, I
finally felt that I had a duty to begin drafting what is below. I
can't really say exactly how or why the "workerism" or "class
reductionism" I point to below is leading to Solidarity's
disintegration, but in my gut I believe that is the case.
I've tried to post this several times to the main Solidarity list,
our "online discussion bulletin," beginning a couple of days before
Thanksgiving and the original deadline for voting on the "points of
unity" referendum. I tried again in early December, then right
before the extended referendum deadline in the third week of
December, and just a couple of days ago. It never did get sent out.
I am posting it here not to get around "censorship" by Solidarity's
leadership in any intentional political sense, but as an
illustration of the reality that the group is no longer functioning
as a viable political organization, because there is a point when
dysfunction becomes as bad or worse than censorship, and I think we
passed it a month or two ago.
[A technical note: for whatever reasons, which I don't pretend to
understand, my good friend and comrade Louis never allowed anything
but plain text on this list, so my formatting of what is above and
below, including italics, bold and
may very well be lost unless this policy has changed. I will send a
copy of this post as I originally formatted it to anyone that asks
* * *
[Last revised towards the end of November.]
What is below is the result of many weeks of thinking, reading,
writing and rewriting. It is not a clear and
comprehensive exposition of what I think about the interrelated
subjects that I touch on. Very often, the way I think through what
I feel about some question or a series of questions is by writing.
But in this case, I'm not finished, and have decided I'm not going
to finish, not just because time is running out, but because I
don't think I am in a place where I should try to speak with more
force and conviction about certain subjects.
That's the feeling kept me from finishing this draft.
So I am not going to further refine this document, not because
I've run out of ideas on what to add or how to modify what is
below, but not just because I've run out of time, or that I don't
think most folks in Soli care.
I'm not sure how --or even whether-- I am going to vote on the
In terms of the actual political positions in it or that flow from
it, I have no problems.
But that is just the tip of the iceberg, and I suspect that what
is underneath is what is sinking Solidarity.
And, YES, I remain of the opinion that Solidarity is sinking. And,
from my point of view, our response has mostly been rearranging
the deck chairs while the band plays on.
Implicit 'workerist' assumptions
As I perceive it, a central theoretical underpinning of this
document as it is now fleshed out with the commentary is that
capitalism is quintessentially a system based on the exploitation
of the working class.
I do not believe that, and have not for many years, even though
long ago I tired of making the argument.
Capitalism is based on three fundamental axis of
oppression and exploitation: class, gender, and nationality
(understanding them broadly, in the latter case, for example, to
encompass tribe, ethnicity, race, geography, community, caste,
indigenous status, etc.).
There is also an axis of "exploitation" that lies seemingly beyond
and outside the social sphere, and that is of natural resources
and nature itself. I do not take it up here further because I've
not figured out how to do so, even though my gut tells me it
belongs in a "big picture" sort of analysis, like what I am trying
In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels discount gender and
nationality, over-generalizing from the initial English and
Western European experience of the industrial revolution and its
Abolition of the family! Even the most radical
flare up at this infamous proposal of the Communists....
The bourgeois clap-trap about the family and education, about
the hallowed co-relation of parents and child, becomes all the
more disgusting, the more, by the action of Modern
Industry, all the family ties among the proletarians are
torn asunder, and their children transformed into simple
articles of commerce and instruments of labour....
* * *
The working men have no country. We cannot take from them what
they have not got. Since the proletariat must first of all
acquire political supremacy, must rise to be the leading class
of the nation, must constitute itself the nation, it is so
far, itself national, though not in the bourgeois sense of the
National differences and antagonism between peoples are
daily more and more vanishing, owing to the development of
the bourgeoisie, to freedom of commerce, to the world
market, to uniformity in the mode of production and in the
conditions of life corresponding thereto. [The
Communist Manifesto, Chapter II: Communists and Proletarians.
Read it again, especially the italicized parts, and
understand that Marx and Engels felt compelled to take
this up and also that their statements are categorical,
unambiguous, and not really susceptible to any
interpretation save the literal one.
Marx and Engels don't argue in the Manifesto that nothing else had
ever mattered but rather that the development of capitalism was
simplifying matters by making these other historical axis of
exploitation and oppression irrelevant. But in their view, it
hadn't always been so.
In Capital, Marx explains that what we call "national"
exploitation, especially of indigenous peoples, and not the "class"
exploitation of modern proletarians, had played the central
role in so-called "Primitive Accumulation" ("primitive" meaning
original or initial, not backward or rudimentary) and the
emergence of industrial capitalism:
The discovery of gold and silver in America,
the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the
aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and
looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a
warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalised
the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These
idyllic proceedings are the chief momenta of primitive
accumulation. On their heels treads the commercial war of the
European nations, with the globe for a theatre. It begins with
the revolt of the Netherlands from Spain, assumes giant
dimensions in England’s Anti-Jacobin War, and is still going
on in the opium wars against China, &c. [Capital,
Ch. 31, Genesis of the Industrial Capitalist.]
Marx and Engels were convinced that capitalist development would
reduce everything to the common denominator of class. The
distinction between oppressor nations and their victims would
disappear, as backward countries were dragged into the world
market and modernized. So just after writing the Manifesto with
Marx, Engels wrote a year-in-review article about 1847 in which he
hailed the United States stealing of half of Mexico's territory:
In America we have witnessed the conquest of
Mexico and have rejoiced at it. It is also an advance when a
country which has hitherto been exclusively wrapped up in its
own affairs, perpetually rent with civil wars, and completely
hindered in its development, a country whose best prospect had
been to become industrially subject to Britain — when such a
country is forcibly drawn into the historical process. It
is to the interest of its own development that Mexico will
in future be placed under the tutelage of the United States.
the Movements of 1847. Emphasis added.]
Of course, Marx and Engels later came to understand that this war
was mostly about trying to increase the number of slave states,
and took a different attitude. But we should understand WHY they
took the position they did initially.
The decline of 'classic' colonialism
At that time (mid-1800s), the sort of colonialism that had been
central to the initial creation of large masses of capital seemed
to be a dying phenomenon, so it was completely discounted by Marx
and Engels. That was not an irrational view. Virtually all of the
Americas had shaken off the colonial shackles (in Latin American
and the Caribbean this was to a large degree a byproduct of the
bourgeois Great French Revolution). What remained was tiny
(relative to the past). The then existing European colonies in the
rest of the world were based on or extensions of trading ports,
and did not encompass huge inland territories.
Given the development of the steamship and its industrial
monopoly, Britain steadily expanded its world presence throughout
the 1800s, until, with the increased weight of industrial
capitalists in the more cohered capitalist nations of the late
1800s, there is an explosion of direct colonization that by
1895, pretty much had the entire world divvied up. If you want to
see the evolution in a quick slide show, look at these four maps:
The one thing to remember that isn't reflected in the maps is the
development of the neo-colonial mode of penetration and
domination, especially in Latin America, so although the map seems
to reflect little or no change in this hemisphere, that was not
true. After the U.S. Civil War, Mexico, Central America and the
Caribbean increasingly came under complete U.S. domination, while
sub-equatorial South America became a field of contention between
Germany, the UK and the U.S.
My point is that Marx and Engels viewed the reduction in
colonialism as a long-lasting tendency based on the idea that "The
country that is more developed industrially only shows, to the
less developed, the image of its own future." [Preface
to the First German Edition of Capital]
What really happened after Marx's death and at the very end of
Engels's life was an explosion of colonialism in a variety of
forms as soon as industrial capitalism had got itself together in
places like France, Germany, Italy and the United States. That
tells me THIS is the real nature of the system: it's not just all
As for gender, the footnote Engels added at the beginning of the
manifesto, pointing to The
Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, which
outlines how the defeat of the matriarchy and the subjugation of
women is the origin of ALL exploitation and hierarchical
oppression, is enough for me. And quite contrary to the Manifesto's
prognosis that "all the family ties among the proletarians are
torn asunder," the family remains a fundamental unit --if not the
fundamental unit-- of human societies.
Prioritizing class over gender and race/nationality
Why am I arguing at such a high level of abstraction and
Look at, for example, our first point of unity's explanation:
The present system produces poverty, war,
environmental crises, and social disorder for the many and
fantastic wealth and power for a tiny ruling class. Through
its exploitation of labor and endless drive toward greater
profit, capitalism pits workers around the world into
cut-throat competition, reinforces social oppression, and
denies us real freedom. Unemployment, regular economic
crises, and ecologically unsustainable growth are inevitable
under the irrational capitalist system. While we fight for
reforms that alleviate these miserable conditions in order to
improve the confidence and organization of the working class,
we understand that no reform of the system can permanently
abolish these conditions. Therefore, we fight for the
abolition of the capitalist system.
Why do we highlight that capitalism "pits workers around the world
into cut-throat competition." This is not right. There is not a
single unified world market for labor. Moreover, when you think
about it, the main problem working people in the third world face
in relation to the workers in the United States is that the latter
support American imperialism.
American workers build, fuel, arm and pilot imperialist drones in
carrying out targeted assassinations. They make up imperialism's
occupation forces and global goon squads. Domestically, American
workers make up the 1.1 million cops and other employees of state
and local police agencies, and the estimated 2 million plus
rent-a-pigs who work for security companies or corporations.
Why do we say that we want to improve "the confidence and
organization of the working class" ignoring these and many other
issues? Just who is this "working class" abstracted from time,
space and circumstance? Referring to its "confidence and
organization" suggests this "working class" is some sort of
conscious social force, a cohered self-and-other identified
I don't mean to be rude, but if so, just what has it done for me
lately? Or for poor families having their food stamps cut? Or for
the unemployed denied benefits? Or for immigrant children whose
parents are shanghaied by the "fellow workers" of the immigration
gestapo. Or for women who are the targets of rape here or rape and
acid attacks elsewhere? Or for the victims of drone strikes in the
What do we expect people will think when they read a statement
like that, about strengthening the "confidence and organization"
of a collective social protagonist that has been absent from the
U.S. political scene longer than any member of Solidarity
has been active in politics?
Why don't we highlight instead the people who have been
organizing, fighting and dying to rescue their countries
from our imperialism, or the domestic manifestation of
the same phenomenon, people who have been struggling against the
inferior caste status and accompanying super-exploitation of their
Centrality of 'organized labor'?
Or look at point five: "We
see organized labor as a central part of the working class
movement; within it we organize for greater solidarity,
internationalism, democracy, and militancy."
Dudes, just WHAT have you been smoking? Never mind how you've
seen organized labor's role in it, where is this
working class movement you're talking about? The truth is
that there has been no working class movement worthy of the name
in the United States for far longer than Solidarity has been in
existence. And as for current "organized labor" playing a "central
role" should a real class movement emerge, I find myself unable to
embrace such confidence. I would bet instead that new forms will
emerge that will go against, around or beyond the old unions.
"Organized labor" drank the kool-aid of entrenching privileges
for some. Worse it did soby throwing the most
oppressed and exploited layers of the working class under the
bus many decades ago. It acquiesced to the Taft-Hartley Act
denying the right to unionize to domestic employees, farm workers,
and pretty much all workers in the South and Southwest (through
state "right to work" laws), in exchange for the union shop in the
east and west coasts and the Midwest. That was only one of many
betrayals, of course: another one was abandoning the fight for
national health insurance and opting instead for employer plans,
abandoning an improved social security retirement pension and
opting instead for pensions from individual employers.
It was all quite "rational" -- looking out for number one. But
with that attitude, you can't be part of a class movement.
The common thread is that "organized labor" chose privilege rather
than solidarity. They chose union "brothers" rather than
"the class." That's a big part of the reason why there is
no class movement in this country, and every day there is less and
less of a union movement.
This change in the unions coincided with a change in the
social status of the sorts of people who were disproportionately
present in the unions decades ago, when industrial unions were
established: white immigrants and their children, white ethnics.
Around the time of WWII and especially in its aftermath they
became fully "white." When I was a kid in the 60's, I remember
that there was a lot of talk about how all the big shots were
WASPs --White Anglo-Saxon Protestants-- and Kennedy's election as
an Irish President was viewed as a very big deal. No one
talks about WASPs any more.
There was a huge change also in their economic situation, with a
prolonged quarter-century boom from 1945 to 1970 that created the
now much bemoaned "American middle class."
The underlying "class-and-only class is fundamental" approach
means that great stress is placed on the role of unions, "as
a central part of the working class movement."
Immigration, colonialism and the U.S. working class
Why don't we highlight INSTEAD the role of immigrant organizations
in the working class movement?
In reality, to a very large degree, that's what union
were originally, because that was the character of the American
proletariat. This was the analysis presented by Louis Fraina (an
Italian immigrant that James P. Cannon described as "the single
person most responsible for the founding of the American Communist
Party") to the Second Congress of the Comintern in the summer of
Fraina: The last speaker [John Reed, author of
"Ten Days that Shook the World"] talked about the Negroes as
an oppressed people in the United States. We have at the same
time two other kinds of oppressed people: the foreign workers
and the colonial inhabitants. The terrible suppression of
strikes and of the revolutionary movement in general is in no
way a result of the war, it is much more a more forceful
political expression of the earlier attitude towards the
unorganised and unskilled workers. These workers’ strikes
are suppressed violently. Why? Because these workers are in
the main foreigners (they form 60 per cent of the
industrial proletariat), who are in fact in the same position
as a colonial population. After the Civil War (1861-1865)
capitalism developed at a great pace. The West, which had been
underdeveloped until then, was opened up by the construction
of the overland railways. The investment capital for this
development came from Europe and the Eastern states. The
immigrants however were the human raw material who were
developed by imperialist violence in exactly the same way as
the inhabitants of backward colonial countries. The
concentration and monopolisation of industry, all these
typical preconditions of internal imperialism, grew up
before the United States could develop its foreign
imperialism. The terror that the colonial population
had to face was no different from the terror that workers
had to face who migrated to the United States. Thus in
1912 the coal miners in Ludlow went on strike. The miners were
driven out of their homes with the help of soldiers and
quartered in huts. One day, while the men were fighting the
army some miles away, a troop of soldiers surrounded the huts
and set light to them, and hundreds of women and children
perished in the flames. Under these conditions the class
struggle in the United States often becomes a racial struggle.
And just as a Negro revolt can be the signal for a bourgeois
counter-revolution, and does not represent a proletarian
revolution, so too the same thing can happen in a revolt of
the immigrant workers. The great task is to unite these
movements among the Americans into a revolutionary movement. The whole of Latin America must be
regarded as a colony of the United States, and not only
its present colonies such as the Philippines etc. Central
America is under the complete control of the United States
through her forces of occupation. The same control is however
also exercised in Mexico and South America, where it has a
two-fold expression: first of all through economic and
financial penetration, which has increased since the
expropriation of German business in these countries, and
secondly through the application of the Monroe Doctrine,
[Proclaimed in 1823 by President Monroe, the Doctrine pledged
opposition to colonisation of the Americas by European powers.
Used in late 19th and 20th centuries to establish US
imperialist domination over Central and Southern America.]
which has changed from being originally the defence of America
against the monarchist system into being the tool of the
hegemony and the strengthening of United States imperialism
over Latin America. A year before the war President Wilson
interpreted the Monroe Doctrine in such a way that it became a
way for the American government to prevent British capitalists
from obtaining new sources of oil in Mexico. In other words –
Latin America is the colonial basis of imperialism in the
United States. While the economic circumstances of the
countries of the rest of the world become shakier and
shakier, United States imperialism strengthens its position
by throwing itself into the exploitation and development
of Latin America. It is absolutely necessary to fight against
this imperialism by starting revolutionary movements in Latin
America, just as it is necessary to proceed against British
imperialism by setting up revolutionary movements in its
of the Second Congress of the Communist International,
Chapter 4.Emphasis added.]
In that light, consider a statement like that in point 6: "the
historical and structural connections between capitalism and white
supremacy, the social disease of racism cannot be eradicated under
capitalism...". Would we talk about "the historical and structural
connections between capitalism and class exploitation" in this
way? Of course not, because in the conventional Marxist vision,
capitalism IS class exploitation, that is what defines this
But if the "historical and structural connections" are so intimate
that they cannot be eradicated under capitalism, why are they
"connections" at all? Shouldn't we say instead that they are
inherent and essential to this system, an integral part of it?
My contention is that this one-dimensional view of capitalism is
wrong. Patriarchy and the exploitation based on territorial/ethnic
factors that manifest as "white supremacy" in the United States
are just as central to capitalism as class exploitation is.
The mistakes Marx and Engels made in the direction of class
reductionism may be understandable, given how industrial capital
emerged and the narrow perch afforded by the information they had
available. But absolute truths are the realm of religion, not
science. We should understand truth as a dialectical process of
successive approximations. And to deny that the further
development of capitalism is different from what they
projected is to transform Marx and Engels into religious prophets.
What does this all mean?
OK, so I reject the theoretical and analytical framework that I
believe underlies the way the explanatory material is presented.
What does that mean?
I guess to some people it will mean I should not be a member of
Solidarity, and if a significant layer of people feel that way, I
will make it so.
But in reality, apart from one or another specific sentence, like
about the future central role of the labor movement, I don't
disagree with the thrust of any of the individual points.
And as for the labor movement point, I suspect most comrades
would agree that the labor movement of the future that is a class
movement, will have to be a very different movement from this one:
transformed, reborn or replaced, just like the CIO of the 1930s
was to the AFL.
But leaving that aside, I do not think a differently-worded
"Basis of political agreement" that subtly incorporates as an
underlying but unstated framework my understanding of the system
would be better.
The "Basis of Political Agreement" that this document takes as its
model is the original Solidarity one from the mid-1980s.
But that document expressed a reality, it did not create
it. That reality was the convergence of currents that came out
of the radicalization of the 1960s, opposed Stalinism, had
intersected with the Trotskyist tradition. And, in addition, they
were all committed to greatly privileging "the labor work," whose
only real practical on-the-ground, dollars and cents value (people
easily offended will want to stop reading before they get to the
next phrase) turned out to be to attract to the organization
people from college campuses, i.e., members of the petty-bourgeois
That doesn't bother me at all because the more young rebels we
attract the better. And I have no objection, none whatsoever, to
comrades with an overwhelming focus on the unions continuing their
work, just as I know that they have never had qualms about my
focus on the immigrant rights movement. Unlike the latter-day
"Leninists" (poor Lenin!) I do not believe a revolutionary
socialist political organization should be like the Borg.
A true "scientific" approach to politics is not for everyone to
follow exactly the same tactic. When there is a new medicine for a
condition, the test is never handing out the medicine by itself,
but comparing its effect to that of the old medicine, or to a
And in that spirit, I don't believe we have ever faced up to the
other side of our student youth recruitment thanks to the labor
work, which is that we've never recruited anyone out of the
traditional proletariat from unions like the UAW, Teamsters, etc.
Instead, "the labor work" recruited out of Solidarity tons
of people who then remained active in their unions as well as
broader social and political causes -- but often not quite in the
way we would have hoped. There's no sense crying over milk spilt under a
bridge we should have burned a long time ago, so I will leave that
A new period: depression and Occupy
We are in a new period. We are finishing the sixth year after the
economic downturn that began in late 2007, and we are still in an
economic depression. One sixth of those still officially in the
labor force are unemployed or underemployed; and if the rate of
labor force participation of people of working age had remained
constant --in other words, if those who have given up looking for
work are included--, the figure would be well over one in five.
The "old" jobs that were lost were, about two-thirds of them,
better paying than your "average" job. Most "new" jobs pay less
than the "average" (meaning "median") wage. Many of these "new"
jobs are government-subsidized through food stamps and other
"welfare," as well as corporate tax breaks. There is a tremendous
decline in government services, at the federal, state and local
levels not to mention a complete paralysis in social and economic
policy. And the political, intellectual and moral degradation of
the United States (Guantanamo concentration camp and torture
center, drone assassinations, etc.) is even more breathtaking,
though going into that further would take us very far afield.
Two years ago we saw a mass upsurge in response to this situation:
the Occupy movement. Bourgeois commentators decried that the
movement did not have one or more central demands through which it
could be co-opted, diverted into electoral cretinism, or channeled
into non-profiteer single-issue-ism. Thus the Obama administration
organized a clandestine, coordinated campaign to use petty local
ordinances and mass arrests to disorganize and disperse the
movement. Given the limitations of the movement and especially of
the forces it looked to for leadership, this campaign largely
But even in the aftermath of the occupations, "occupy" events
could still attract a broad layer of activists -- way, way broader
than any socialist group (or even all socialist groups, see for
example last June's Left Forum in New York). And AFAIK, no
organized socialist group made any gains from Occupy -- on the
contrary, people were drawn out of the groups into Occupy. In the
case of Solidarity the failure to throw ourselves into Occupy in
the way that tens of thousands of other activists did, to me
clearly indicated that the organization is moribund, and should
not continue on its current basis.
Rather than trying to ape a model from the cold war era with an
updated "basis of political agreement," shouldn't we subject the
very idea of such a document to the same questioning that
led to the conclusion that the content of the original
From the lack of discussion, this new document does not
arise from any organic, from below process, convergence, or felt
Values and identities: not principles, demands,
So what is it that held "Occupy" together? Not a demand, but an
identity and a grievance. The identity was "we are the 99%," the
grievance quite simply that the 1% are screwing us over, socially,
economically and politically.
If we look back at the great revolutions, we will see that what
drove them is something much more akin to what drove occupy.
In the Great French Revolution, it was liberty, equality and
fraternity. In Russia it was peace, land and bread. Eleven years
ago, in the wake of the attempted coup against President Hugo
Chavez in Venezuela, I analyzed in some detail the sentiments
that have driven the emergence of revolutionary movements in Latin
America -- an analysis that what some call the "pink tide" that
has spread in Latin America since then has confirmed.
I think it is important for Marxists to
understand the character of the
movements through which revolutions arise in Latin America.
themselves, typically, neither as movements for workers rule
movements for national independence, not explicitly, but
rather as movements
to ennoble or raise up the nation from its current
Cuba and Nicaragua: revolutionary movements for national
So I would suggest that rather than a programmatic statement, we
start thinking in terms of the essential core values or sentiments
that IN FACT hold our group together. But I fear that if we do so
we may well discover that apart from a vague belief in the need
for a socialist organization, there isn't much there. Yes, lip
service to some sort of "working class" or "proletarian"
orientation -- but I would suggest that this is a merely verbal
coincidence that masks no real common understanding.
I believe we are in a political stage of the re-emergence of
"class consciousness" --anti-capitalist political consciousness--
in the United States and other countries, and not just imperialist
ones. I think that was the significance of Occupy. Just take a
glance: Tens of thousandsdropped everything else and
became full-time occupiers.
Thousands of them were willing to be arrested.
Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions came into
contact with the encampments, sometimes just for a few hours,
others consistently although they did not join full time; and
Tens of millions of people identified with the
All the bullshit talk about the debt crisis was drowned out by
alarm over growing inequality --genuine alarm on the part of some
in the media, but mostly a reflection of the panic among the rich
that they been caught looting the nation and destroying the
standard of living of working people.
What does it say that just about all socialist groups were
completely marginalized, and in our case, not even able to attract
a single new member out of that movement?
These socialist groups are the end product of a long tradition and
evolution. They arose from the working class and other social
movements that long ago dissipated although their remains continue
a zombie-like existence in the form of unions, non-profits and
similar. From time to time a spark rekindles these movements but
generally the conflagration does not last.
I think the 2010-2012 international wave of occupy-type movements
were the symptoms and initial forms of a re-emerging
radicalization with a double base working people and the youth, or
if you prefer, a single base of working-class youth acting with
the sympathy of a significant layer of their older siblings and
Abandon the past and look to the future
I think we need to look for new approaches and models that have
come out of or arisen with the new experiences of this depression.
Leading up to our last convention, I proposed that we invite the
Philly Socialists, whom I had run into at the Left Forum. Other
comrades in the leadership quite rationally and in keeping with
our history and our norms said this issue should go to our
Philadelphia comrades, who reported they rarely ran into them and
as far as they knew they were a tiny grouplet.
In August I had the privilege of attending the Philly Socialist's
second annual leadership retreat. There was one other "older"
guest, i.e., someone who was more than half my age. He was 35.
Of the other 25 people in attendance, only one was 31, half my
age: everyone else was younger.
This is a group that was started in the summer of 2011, right
before occupy. The founders say they started with 3 or 5 members,
and 2 years later, they had 125, although "membership" in the
Philly socialists is a squishy category. But if, say 20 of the 25
at the retreat were hard core members comparable in commitment and
activism --even if not experience-- to the median Soli member, I
believe certain that there are at the very least another 10 or 20
or even 30 more comrades who are just as committed and active in
the group, who for one reason or another did not make it to the
retreat. And there may well be another 20 or more who are somewhat
active and committed to the group.
Think about that. This group has gone from, say, five, to a
Soli-comparable membership of (I believe) roughly fifty in two
years. Or say just to 20, only the ones I could
physically verify at their summer school retreat/encampment.
That is not exactly the least successful socialist group in
Philly, nor the Northeast, nor the entire country.
Then there's the other part: if they're so successful, why don't
we ever see them or hear about them?
A different way of organizing
The answer is because their activities and approach to political
work is completely different from our own. It resembles more the
Black Panther Party and the way that party was built, which wasn't
just, or even mainly through newspaper sales, coalition work, and
"interventions" at demonstrations. It was through an approach they
called "serve the people, body and soul," and embodied especially
in their free breakfast for children program -- which the
bourgeoisie viewed as such a devastating attack on their
political/ideological hegemony that they quickly had their state
counter with the breakfast for poor children at public schools
program that still exists down to our days.
This may seem like apolitical "do gooder" activity, but it
actually harkens back to the very early stages of the development
of the socialist movement among working people in the early and
mid-1800s, with workers clubs, mutual aid societies and so on.
The first project of the Philly socialist comrades was English
classes for immigrants. Which was especially striking to me for a
This is the social layer of our day that looks something like what
Lenin and his friends in the Third International understood by the
term "proletariat" as applied to the United States. It is the
Latino and other immigrant workers and especially the
In Atlanta, I think know at least one way of what
relating to this community looks like. It is through the
immigrant-based, immigrant-led Georgia Latino Alliance for Human
Rights, "our" radio station (not technically but in reality), and
the rich spectrum of other groups and efforts that have created an
entire ecosystem, a movement that exists not just in Atlanta but
throughout the southeast region.
But I don't know of any similar grass-roots groups/efforts in
Philly or elsewhere outside the Southeast (save for AZ). I may not
have come up with the orientation this group of Philly comrades
came up with. But I think it speaks very highly of them that with
a handful of comrades, this is where they started.
Conclusion: To thine own self be true
I've been writing this paper for weeks. That is quite unlike me. I
usually write political tracts in one sitting, although often I
will rewrite them in a second, and even third sitting. I did this
even back in the typewriter days: I would rewrite everything from
the top each time I sat down to work.
With computers and the Internet, I had to train myself to not hit
the "send" button just as soon as I felt I had finished, but wait
until the morning, and give it one last look [I almost always
finish what I write at night].
In this case I've written time, and time and time again, and never
been seriously tempted to hit the "send" button.
I've just come back from the vigil demanding the closing down of
the Stewart Immigration Detention Center (said to be the largest
in the country and located on the outskirts of the "city" of
1,145, or 2,741 if you include the prisoners)and the seat of Stewart County, the poorest county in the state
of Georgia. I also went to the School of the Americas Watch
activities, held less than an hour north in Columbus. The majority
of those present were college age or just a little older; most of
the younger attendees were women. I was there as part of the
"beyond borders/más allá de las fronteras" program on WRFG (Radio
Free Georgia), and kept asking
people, in that capacity, why they were there.
None of the answers were couched in the sort of language that our
basis of political agreement, new or old, deploys. Instead they
were in the sort of terms we use to name ourselves, to say who,
what and why we are: Solidarity; socialism, feminism, anti-racism;
working people organizing to protect themselves and people like
My gut tells me we do not need a new "Basis of political
agreement" but a new way of thinking about who we are, what we
should be, how we should present ourselves. We should be a lot
LESS clearly defined than when we first arose as an organization:
those splits, fights and fusions came to an end.
A dead end.
The new basis of political agreement, inspired by and required by
the obsolescence of the old one, is a mausoleum to our revered
By adopting it, we remain forever pallbearers at the burial of the
left of the XXth Century, ready to throw ourselves into the
freshly-dug grave just as soon as we've laid the casket in its
Let the dead bury the dead.
There is only one thing a group that has had the arrogance and the
audacity to name itself Solidarity should be:
Unbound by the past, fast into the future, forever young.