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 email list-serve.

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 Street upsurge.

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 movement.

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 movement.

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 trash it
- 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 year.

*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
block quotes
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 for it.]

* * *

[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 referendum.

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.

To explain:

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 to write.

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 immediate aftermath:
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 word.

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. Emphasis added.]
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.

Primitive Accumulation

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. [Engels, 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: 1800, 1822, 1885, 1898.

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 about class.

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 generalization?

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 protagonist.

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 Muslim world?

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 race/ethnicity/nationality?

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 so by 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 1920:
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 colonies. [Minutes 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 system.

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 intelligentsia.

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 placebo.

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 there.

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 succeeded.

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 was outdated.

From the lack of discussion, this new document does not arise from any organic, from below process, convergence, or felt need.

Values and identities: not principles, demands, or program

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. These present
themselves, typically, neither as movements for workers rule nor as
movements for national independence, not explicitly, but rather as movements
to ennoble or raise up the nation from its current degradation.

[Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua: revolutionary movements for national salvation.]

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 thousands
dropped 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 movement.

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 parents.

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 reason:

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 undocumented.

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.

Until now.

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 Lumpkin (pop: 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 them.

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 past.

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 embrace.

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.