Congressional Progressive Caucus presenting its platform
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt; if you know Heaven and know Earth, you may make your victory complete.”
—Sun Tzu, The Art of War
By Carl Davidson
Keep On Keepin’ On
Successful strategic thinking starts with gaining knowledge, particular gaining adequate knowledge of the big picture, of all the political and economic forces involved (Earth) and what they are thinking, about themselves and others, at any given time. (Heaven). It’s not a one-shot deal. Since both Heaven and Earth are always changing, strategic thinking must always be kept up to date, reassessed and revised.
To make a political assessment of the forces commanded by the U.S. bourgeoisie and its subaltern allies and strata, it helps to make an examination of Congress, the White House and other Beltway institutions, as well as voting trends and others political and cultural among the masses. And to get an accurate estimation, we must often tear away, set aside or bracket misleading labels and frames, as well as assess varying economic resources and voting results. We want to illuminate an intentionally obfuscated landscape, like when a flash of lightning at night does away with shadows and renders the landscape in sharp relief.
The primary conventional wisdom we want to dissect here is that the U.S. has a two-party system. First, the nature of political parties in the US today is rather unique; they are not parties in any European parliamentary sense, where members are bound to a program or platform with some degree of discipline, and mass party organizations exist at the base. Second, the Republicans and the Democrats in the US are largely empty shells locally, consisting mainly of incumbents and staffers, and their retained lawyers, fundraisers and media consultants. There is some variation from state to state—state committeemen and women will pass resolutions and certify ballot status and positions, but there’s not much of a mass character save for an occasional campaign rally. Third, at the Congressional level the two-party structure, to some degree, still allows for dividing the spoils of committee assignments, but even these are often warped by other considerations.
A few also like to argue that the US has only one party, a capitalist party, with two wings, the bad and the worse. But this is reductionist to a fault, and doesn’t tell you much other than that we live in a capitalist society, which is rather trivial.
Some also hold out hope for a ‘third party’ that is noncapitalist. But given the ‘winner take all’ rules in most elections, along with the amount of money and resources required to mount credible campaigns, these are long shots, save for periods of crisis and upheaval, like the period just before the U.S Civil War, where the Whigs imploded, the Liberty Party had a role, and a new ‘First Party’ formed, the GOP. Another period worth a deeper look is 1944-48, when the rising forces of the Cold War and Southern racism led to a four-way race in 1948 between the Dixiecrats (Strom Thurmond), the Democrats (Harry Truman), the GOP (Thomas Dewey) and the Progressive Party (Henry Wallace).
Our Six-Party System
But today, we’ll do better to get a more accurate picture of our adversaries if we set aside the labels of ‘two-party system’, ‘Democrats’ and ‘Republicans’ and the other nuances mentioned above. Instead, I’ll offer an alternative working hypothesis, that we live under a six-party system with two labels, and that this will give us a closer and more realistic view of the relation and balance of forces with which we have to deal. But even here, it’s important to note that we are discussing ‘parties’ as clusters of colluding and contending blocs of interests, economic views and social coalitions, not unified and disciplined ideological formations strictly bound to a platform. The six ‘parties’ described here below, however, do come closer to these kinds of constructs than the larger ‘two labels’ they operate under.
So who are they?
The Tea Party. So far, only the most far right group has been given the label ‘party’ in the mass media, even though it operates as a faction within the GOP. It generally represents anti-globalist nationalism with a prominence given to the ‘Austrian School’ economics of classical liberalism and, in some cases, the self-interest philosophy of Ayn Rand. It also merges with paleo-conservative traditionalists, which serves as a cover for defending white and male privilege and armed militia groups. It appeals to about 10-20 percent of the electorate, with greater support in the South and West. It is currently locked in a fierce factional struggle with the other wing of the GOP. While a minority in the House overall, they dominate the GOP House Caucus, and thus, as reported widely on 24-hour news cycles, they can and do block many bills from coming to the floor. Tea Party incumbents have been aided in gaining and retaining their seats by GOP-led redistricting on the level of the states they control, breaking up districts electing Democrats and forming new one with more homogenous rightwing majorities. This was begun by Paul Weyrich of the ‘New Right’ under Reagan, and continues to this day
The Republican Multinationalists. These are the neoliberal moneybags of the GOP (and the neoconservative subset termed ‘The War Party’ by Pat Buchanan and Ron Paul from the right)-the Bushes, Cheney, Karl Rove, the Koch brothers and others with fortunes rooted in petroleum, defense industries and other US businesses with global reach. Their neoliberal economics became hegemonic with Reagan’s ascendancy via the anti-Black and anti-feminist ‘Southern Strategy’ alliance with the forces that later came to make up the Tea Party right. The Koch brother’s money also helped form ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, thus allowing business lobbyists to write uniform reactionary legislation, mainly on the state level, across the country. Despite statewide gains, the GOP label’s current dilemma is that the Tea Party’s more inane, backward and proto-fascist views on social and cultural issues is causing the GOP tickets to lose national elections, deadlock the Congress and strain the alliance. On the other hand, if the ‘Country Club’ Republicans dump the Tea Party, the GOP itself may implode
The Blue Dogs. This caucus in the Democratic Party is tied to ‘Red State’ mass voting bases-the military industrial workers, and the Southern and Appalachian regions. They are neo-Keynesian on military matters, but neoliberal on everything else. Their ‘party’ frequently sides with the GOP in Congressional voting. The Blue Dog Coalition has recently shrunk from 27 to 14 members, often having paved the way to self-defeat by backhandedly encouraging GOP victories in their districts by attacking Obama and other Democrats.
The ‘Third Way’ New Democrats. This ‘party’ of the center right is mainly the U.S. electoral arm of global and finance capital, with the Clintons and Rahm Emanuel as the better known public faces. Formed to break with ‘economic populism’ of the old FDR coalition, and assert a variety of globalist ‘free trade’ measures and the gutting of Glass-Steagall banking regulations, this new post-Reagan-Mondale grouping decided to put distance between itself and traditional labor allies. While neo-Keynesian on most matters, it also ‘triangulates’ with neoliberal positions. Started as the Democratic Leader Council and the ‘New Democrat Coaltions. John Kerry is a member of the DLC but President Obama has claimed ‘no direct connection,’ even though the grouping lists Obama as one of its ‘rising stars’ The DLC/’New Democrats’ essentially speaks for some of the more powerful elements of finance capital under the ‘Democratic’ label.. It is the dominant view among the Senate Democratic majority.
Old New Dealers. This ‘party’ is represented by unofficial wealthy Democratic groups like Americans Coming Together, plus the AFL-CIO’s Committee on Political Education and others. They take a Keynesian approach to economic matters, and are often critical of finance capital and the trade deals promoted by the globalists. They are also wary of deep defense cuts that would cause layoffs among their membership base. They maintain, however, strong alliances with some civil rights, women’s and environmental groups. Their main value to Democratic tickets is their independent get-out-the-vote operations, which can be decisive in many races. They also work closely with the Alliance for American Manufacturing, a business-based anti-free trade lobby that works with labor.
PDA/Congressional Progressive Caucus. While the largest single caucus in the House, the CPC ‘party’ is still relatively small, representing 80 out of 435 votes. Its policy views are Keynesian and, in some cases, social-democratic as well. Its recent ‘Back-to-Work Budget’ serves as an excellent economic platform for a popular front against finance capital. It also largely overlaps with the Hispanic and Black Caucuses, and is the most multinational ‘Rainbow’ grouping in the Congress. It also includes Senator Bernie Sanders, the sole socialist in Congress, who was an initial founder of the CPC. It has opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, under the Progressive Democrats of America banners of ‘Healthcare Not Warfare’ and ‘Windmills Not Weapons.’ It has recently gained some direct union support from the militant National Nurses United and the Communications Workers of America. Many, but not all, CPC members are also members of Progressive Democrats of America, an independent PAC dubbed the ‘Tom Hayden/ Dennis Kucinich’ Democrats at the time of their founding in 2004. The Congressional Progressive Caucus is the closest political group the US has that would parallel some of the ‘United Left’ socialist and social democratic groups in European countries
What Does It All Mean?
With this brief descriptive and analytical mapping of the upper crust of American politics, many things begin to fall in place. Romney, a very wealthy representative of the Multinational GOP group, defeated all the Tea Party candidates in the primaries, and consequently, could never convince the Tea Party he was one of them, simply because he wasn’t. This led to a drop in GOP voter enthusiasm that couldn’t even be overcome with ‘dog whistle’ appeals to racism and revanchism in the campaigns.
The Obama administration, on the other hand, at its core, represents an alliance between the DLC ‘Third Way’ and the Old New Dealers, while also pulling along the PDA/Congressional Progressive Caucus as energetic but critical secondary allies. The Blue Dogs found themselves out in the cold from the wider Obama coalition, and shrank accordingly. Barbara Lee of PDA and the CPC, moving from a minority of one on Afghanistan at the start of the invasion, finally got a majority of House Democrats to oppose and push Obama on the wars, but to little avail in any immediate sense, being thwarted by both the DLC and the Multinational GOP.
This ‘big picture’ also reveals much about the current budget debates, which are shown to be three-sided-the extreme austerity neoliberalism of the Tea Party Ryan budget, the ‘austerity lite’ budget of the DLC-dominated Senate Democrats, and the left Keynesian progressive ‘Back to Work’ budget of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. The ‘Old New Dealers’ were caught in the middle, with only 20 or so coming over on the Black Caucus version of the ‘Back to Work’ budget, which was still in the minority.
While all this shows why and how Obama was able to pull together a majority electoral coalition, it also reveals why he is still thwarted on pulling together an effective governing coalition. Likewise, it shows how the Tea Party, with only 10-20 percent of the electorate, is able to water down or completely bloc common-sense measures on gun control with 70-90 percent support among the general population.
Finally, the fact that there is only one avowed socialist in Congress tells us something about our own position in the overall balance of forces. Socialist candidates are only able to draw 2% to 5% of the votes in this period, save for Sanders, and we all know that Vermont has some unique features that made it possible, not that Sanders didn’t do yeoman work in pulling together a progressive majority that elected him.
In summary, here are a few things to keep in mind. If you decide to intervene in electoral work to build independent working class grassroots organizations, you don’t go ‘inside the Democratic Party’. There’s not much of an ‘inside’ there anymore. What you do instead is join or work with one of the two factions/’parties’ that are left of center. Your aim is to make either of these stronger, preferably the PDA/Congressional Progressive Caucus. Then to shift the overall balance of forces, your task is to defeat the Tea Party, the Multinational GOP, and the Blue Dogs. At present, not a single piece of progressive legislation is going to get passed without driving a wedge between the two parties under the GOP label and weakening both of them.
We have to keep in mind, however, that ‘shifting the balance of forces’ is mainly an indirect and somewhat ephemeral gain. It does ‘open up space’, but for what? Progressive initiatives matter for sure, but much more is required strategically. We are interested in pushing the popular front vs. finance capital to its limits, and within that effort, developing a socialist bloc. If that comes to scale, the ‘Democratic Party Tent’ is likely to collapse and implode, given the sharper class contractions and other fault lines that lie within it, much as the Whigs did in the 19th Century. That demands an ability to regroup all the progressive forces into a new ‘First Party’ alliance able to contend for power
An old classic formula summing up the strategic thinking of the united front and popular front is appropriate here: ‘Unite and develop the progressive forces, win over the middle forces, isolate and divide the backward forces, then crush our adversaries one by one.’ In short, we have to have a policy and set of tactics for each one of these elements, as well as a strategy for dealing with them overall. Finally, a note of warning from the futurist Alvin Toffler: ‘If you don’t have a strategy, you’re part of someone else’s strategy.’
By Carl Davidson
Keep On Keepin’ On
I’m a 2nd Amendment guy from a semi-rural area of Beaver County in Western PA. Most folks around here have guns, but my guess, judging from the debate in our local paper’s letter’s page, is that most of them are also reasonable on gun control, not to mention horrified by the latest school slayings.
None of the Amendments in Bill of Right is absolutist dogma, including the 2nd Amendment. A line has to be drawn somewhere, unless you want to insist of anyone’s ‘right’ to own Bazookas or Stinger shoulder-fired missiles that can readily take out tanks, helicopters or jetliners taking off from the airport.
Where do you want to draw it? I say ban these military capacity weapons and their large magazines, but keep our deer rifles and shotguns—for those of sound mind who want to keep them. I’m also for thorough registration, full background checks-all to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, those convicted of violent crimes and those under ‘orders of protection’ regarding domestic violence.
But waging the ‘gun control’ debate often misses a deeper question that need to be highlighted. The main purpose of the 2nd Amendment, when it was adopted, had little to do with deer or varmint hunting or individual home defense.
The ‘well-regulated militia,’ in the eyes of many of the Founders, was for several purposes: putting down slave insurrections, seizing land and destroying threats from native peoples, and defending local governments, usually pro-slavery, against the possible ‘tyranny’ of a federal government that might become inclined against slavery.
In our modern age, this purpose carries over among our rightwing populists. A good number of them, to read their blogs, want military-style weapons as ‘defense’ against Black or Mexican ‘hordes’, or a government ‘too left’ to their liking. A handful of them have been brazen enough to state this openly on a few talk shows, but only rarely.
It remains, however, the main reason the NRA core leadership and others of their ilk insist of their right to weapons with a military-scale capacity. That’s the real reason behind what seems to be the unreason and stubbornness you heard at the NRA’s press conference.
I have no fear whatsoever of ‘hordes’ of people of color; however, I do worry about those who do, especially if they’re organized in modern-day ‘militias.’ Finding a compromise will be tougher than it seems, and this bit of hidden backward thinking is one of the key obstacles. But all of us with any sense have got to put our shoulders to the wheel.
By Carl Davidson
Keep On Keepin’ On
Sometimes Republicans just can’t help themselves. Put a little heat on them, and they blurt out the truth, showing what they’re really thinking.
The latest case in point: The retrograde Pennsylvania ‘Voter ID’ law was rejected today, Oct. 2, at least in part, by a state judge, Robert Simpson, allowing people to vote normally at least on this Nov. 6. The decision was a victory for labor, the NAACP, retiree groups and all who care about defending civil rights and liberties.
The main author of the bill, State Rep Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), however, chimed in with this comment:
”Justice Simpson’s final decision is out of bounds with the rule of law, constitutional checks and balances for the individual branches of state government, and most importantly, the will of the people. Rather than making a ruling based on the constitution and the law, this judicial activist decision is skewed in favor of the lazy who refuse to exercise the necessary work ethic to meet the commonsense requirements to obtain an acceptable photo ID.”
Yes, you heard that right. This guy thinks those objecting to this bill are ‘the lazy who refuse to exercise the necessary work ethic.’ And all of us here in Western PA not fresh out of the pumpkin patch know exactly who he thinks he’s talking about. When Gov. Romney went over the top in a recent closed session with his upper crust friends talking about a 47% of the population who wouldn’t ‘take responsibility’ for their lives, I thought things had pretty much hit bottom in the racist dog whistle department. Little did I know!
Metcalfe has done us all a favor in self-exposing the racist mindset behind this GOP voter suppression effort, and revealing exactly why they thought that, if implemented, it could tip the state to Romney. Now they’ve been monkey-wrenched, at least for the time being.
But here’s an interesting thought. I’m not a constitutional lawyer, even though I’ve studied it some. Where does it or our state voting laws suggest, anywhere, that lazy people or people with a hampered work ethic, don’t have the same right to vote as energetic workaholics?
The wealthy have best be careful here. As the saying goes, most people work for their money, but a few people are able to let their money work for them. They can laze about, enjoying the good life of the idle rich. There’s a slippery slope here they may want to avoid for the future.
Carl Davidson is a member of Steelworker Associates. He lives in Western Pennsylvania and writes for BeaverCountyBlue.org, the website of the 12 CD Progressive Democrats of America.
tumblrbot asked: WHAT IS YOUR EARLIEST HUMAN MEMORY?
My stuffed white rabbit
A New Milemarker. Now spread the word and help us multiply these numbers by 10 or more. Go to our Facebook Page and ‘Like’ us if you haven’t yet, and/or go to our main ‘mothership’ site and subscribe via email. Best of all, help to sustain us by making use of the PayPal buttons, either as a subscriber or a one-shot contribution. To donate via regular mail, contact email@example.com
The OUL is a left unity project. All who want to help it succeed are invited to make use of it, and also submit their own materials to share. Initiated by the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism; lead organizer, Carl Davidson
By Carl Davidson
Keep On Keepin’ On
Every so often an outrage happens that lights up the sky, like when lighting strikes at night, and all of a sudden everything previously hidden in darkness and shadow stands out in sharp, bright relief.
The murder of Trayvon Martin was such an event, even though it took a while for the rolling thunder of its full impact to spread across the country. Slowly at first, and then in greater leaps, the news media, after being nudged, picked it up.
I have one quarrel with most of the reports and statements. This was not so much a tragedy as a crime. It was an old-fashioned lynching dressed up with modern-day ‘gun rights’ being exercised in today’s gated communities.
But put that to the side. Most everyone now has dutifully called it a tragedy, called for an impartial investigation to ‘get to the bottom’ of it and see that ‘justice is served.’ Even President Obama finally spoke up, with the proper caveats against prejudging “current investigations,’ but adding that if he had a son, he would look like Trayvon, a point he made to show empathy with the Martin family.
Then we have our former House Speaker and GOP presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich, who, after deploring the tragedy, came up with this attack on Obama in an interview with Sean Hannity:
“It’s not a question of who that young man looked like. Any young American of any ethnic background should be safe, period. We should all be horrified no matter what the ethnic background,” Gingrich said. “Is the President suggesting that if it had been a white who had been shot that would be ok because it didn’t look like him?”
“That’s just nonsense dividing this country up. It is a tragedy this young man was shot,” Gingrich continued on Hannity’s show. “It would have been a tragedy if he had been Puerto Rican or Cuban or if he had been white or if he had been Asian-American of if he’d been a Native American. At some point we ought to talk about being Americans. When things go wrong to an American, it is sad for all Americans. Trying to turn it into a racial issue is fundamentally wrong. I really find it appalling.”
Newt, I have news for you. There’s something truly appalling here; in fact it stinks to high heaven. But it’s not Obama, and if you want to see the source of it, look in the mirror.
Gingrich fancies himself an historian, even something of an expert on the Civil War and its aftermath. He should then know something about lynching. If so, he would know that when the Reconstruction governments were overthrown, the KKK terror started in South Carolina by lynching nearly as many poor whites as Black Freedmen. The aim was to deeply drive home the wedge of the original ‘Southern Strategy’ aimed at dividing the working class in the South and elsewhere.
But as lynching rolled on over the decades, tens of thousands of Blacks bore the brunt of it. Anti-Lynching laws, also for decades, were promoted mainly by Blacks and a few radical allies, while white reactionaries blocked them.
There is nothing colorblind about lynching. It never ceases to amaze me when Republicans claim to be colorblind lovers of Dr. King, while being ‘appalled’ at what they consider the main racists in high places, who are the African Americans supposedly ‘playing the race card.’ The trade union movement over the years has paid some high tuition to learn that mutual respect among nationalities is not rooted in being ‘blind’ to each other’s distinctiveness. Solidarity with a white top and a Black bottom simply doesn’t get the job done.
But the race card is indeed being played against us. It’s been constantly played by those who would keep us under their thumbs, from Jamestown, Virginia in 1619 up to a ‘gated community’ in Stanford, Florida. If you want to see it in action, for starters, watch Fox News or the GOP campaign any day of the week—then to oppose it, gather up some friends to attend a ‘Justice for Trayvon’ rally and work to defeat every candidate and incumbent of the party of the ‘Southern Strategy’ in November.
Carl Davidson is a national co-chair of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. He lives in Western Pennsylvania and writes for BeaverCountyBlue.org
On the Topic of Obama, the
GOP Can’t Even Blush Anymore
By Carl Davidson
Keep On Keepin’ On!
If Hollywood gave Oscars for shamelessness, the Republican responses to President Obama’s State of the Union speech last night, Jan 24, would have swept the field.
Take Indiana’s Gov. Mitch Daniels, who gave the official GOP response:
“No feature of the Obama presidency has been sadder than its constant efforts to divide us, to curry favor with some Americans by castigating others,” he said. “As in previous moments of national danger, we Americans are all in the same boat.”
Amazing. One top GOP candidate, Newt Gingrich, is running around the country attacking Obama as the ‘Food Stamp President,’ while the other, Mitt Romney, whose newly released tax returns show he takes in more in a day than a well-paid worker does in a year, critiques Obama’s business skills using a shuttered factory as a stage prop.
Obama, of course, never shut down a single factory, yet that was precisely the business Mitt Romney and his outfit, Bain Capital, was famous for, including shutting down a factory in Florida, where his video message was being recorded.
“All in the same boat” and ‘castigating others’ indeed. Governor Daniels uttered these words as the state he presides over is currently engaged in a notorious ‘right to work for less’ battle to strip Indiana’s workers on their ability to bargain collectively.
Like many Americans, I watched the President’s speech with a critical eye. As he detailed a number of manufacturing and alternative energy industrial policies, I thought, finally, he’s giving some voice to his ‘inner Keynesian’ and forcing a crack in the neoliberal hegemony at the top. I cheered when he took aim at Wall Street and declared, “No more bailouts, no more handouts, and no more cop outs.” On the other hand I winced more than once at the glorification of militarism and the defense of Empire—I’m one quick to oppose unjust wars and who has long believed a clean energy/green manufacturing industrial policy needs to trump a military-hydrocarbon industrial policy.
This speech was also Obama in campaign mode. One thing we’ve learned over the last four years is that his governing mode is not the same thing, and requires much more of us in terms of independent, popular and democratic power at the base to make good things happen.
But one thing is clear. My critical eye has nothing in common with what’s coming from the GOP and the far right. The first Saturday of every month, the pickups trucks from the local hills and hollows, growing numbers of them, fill the parking lot of the church on my corner, picking up packages from the food pantry to help make ends meet. In these circumstances and lacking better practical choices, I’ll go with the ‘Food Stamp’ President any day of the week.
By Carl Davidson
Keep On Keepin’ On
Do you ever wonder if Republicans are living on another planet, one of those ‘alternate history’ sci-fi worlds?
I do, especially when they get shrill about the new socialist order that a menacing Barack Obama is supposedly dragging us into.
If only! Imagine, if you will, that our President, during his first months in office, had done the following:
1. Got EFCA, the Employee Free Choice act, passed through Congress, so we could double or triple the number of union members in the country fairly quickly.
2. Instead of nationalizing RomneyCare, took a strong stand for ‘Medicare for All’ as the standard for health care, even as a ‘public option.
3. Let the stocks of the biggest ‘too big to fail’ banks fall down to penny status, then bought them all up, and sub-divided them into state-owned banks like the Bank on North Dakota-and nationalized the Federal Reserve to boot.
4. After picking up a majority share in failing auto firms, fired the old management and leased them to the UAW, where the workers in each plant would elect their own managers.
5. Devoted the entirety of his stimulus package to a green manufacturing industrial policy, rather than giving half of it away as tax cuts for the rich, and kept on Van Jones to implement a Green Jobs programs hiring those who needed work the most, first.
6. Brought all the troops home from the wars, repealed the ‘Patriot Act’ and pushed through a new GI Bill for schooling, healthcare and jobs.
Now if even half of these things had taken place, we might stretch a bit and say the weird claims of Republicans had a small point. Unfortunately, we’re not even close. Moreover, even if we were, these are still simply deep structural reforms. They alter relations of power, to some degree, between the working class and finance capital, in the favor of workers. In that sense, they represent economic democracy, which can serve as a bridge to socialism-but again they also may not. In any case, the real thing, where the working class and its allies held the preponderance of political power, would still be a ways down the pike.
But none of these reform items have come into being in any complete or substantive way. However beneficial they might be, they’ve all been declared ‘off the table’ inside a Beltway under the thumb of Wall Street’s neoliberal hegemony. So what are all the GOP 2012 presidential contenders carrying on about with their dire warnings of ‘socialism?’
It’s all a smokescreen to hide two things. First, they want to take the country back to 1900, where the working class has zero power-but Wisconsin and Ohio have taught them they can’t say that out loud. Two, a good-sized portion of their base can’t stand an African American in the Oval Office-the main reason ‘birtherism’ won’t die, and why they keep giving it a wink and a nod.
Now I’d like a President who really would fight for the six points listed above. But it’s not likely this round. In any case, I’m crystal clear on one point: we need to defeat any and all Republicans this round, from top to bottom, whose victories would strip us of any power whatsoever.
Here’s an old piece that somehow still seems relevant now that we’re in a new period, and one David Graeber had a hand in launching….
A Comment on David Graeber’s ‘Twilight of Vanguardism’
By Carl Davidson
I think those opposed to “vanguardism,” or even those in favor of it, often have their own definitions of the term that are too narrow. For instance, at any given time, I find it useful to try to figure out the proportions of advanced, middle and backward among the general population in regards to politics. The backward are those who like and defend the existing order of oppression, the middle don’t want to be bothered with politics all that much because it doesn’t make sense in their daily lives and they are focused on themselves and family, and the advanced are those who see the present order as unfair, unjust and/or oppressive and would like to do something to change it.
This “sectoring” is fluid; any given individual can move from one to another from time to time as conditions vary. But at any given time, the advanced are usually a minority, although they may be a relatively large minority.
Within the advanced, moreover, there are those who are presently active and those who are waiting to do something, those who are in organizations, mass or otherwise, and those who haven’t joined anything yet, and those who think just a few major reforms will do and those who think the whole system has to go.
This narrows things down a bit. If you look at the advanced who are active, in an organization and who think the whole order needs to be replaced, you have what I would call the revolutionary vanguard. Notice that I didn’t say they had to be in ONE organization, or have ONE program, or leader. At some point they might, although it’s unlikely and certainly doesn’t happen by declaration or fiat or self-assertion. In any case, this grouping is what I would call the “natural vanguard” that shrinks or swells with the ebb and flow of class struggle and social crisis.
Now there are many organizations in the “natural vanguard.” Some better, some worse. Some on an open road; some stuck in a cul-de-sac.
Does any one or any one cluster of them ever get to be “the vanguard party?”
Only if certain conditions are met, including one very practical but often ignored factor: your group gets to be a LEADER if it has FOLLOWERS.
This seems clear as day to me, but we still have dozens of groups running around claiming to be the leader, but they don’t have any followers or supporters to speak of. They have the mistaken notion that a ‘correct line’ or ‘scientific program’ is sufficient, even granting that there is such a thing. Myself, I’ve come to the conclusion that I much prefer to work in groups that deal in ‘fruitful working hypotheses’ rather than ‘correct lines.’
I would say that to be the vanguard party, or the vanguard anything, a group or alliance of groups has to earn that designation by, first, winning over the vast majority of the advanced sector to choose it as their own organization; and second, by then in turn winning over large numbers of the middle forces to respect and follow its course of action, at least a good part of the time. Becoming a vanguard in this sense is something that is done practically and over time. The best examples I can think of were Vietnam and China. It simply means that masses of people recognize your group’s leadership ability that they will want to defend and protect you against the enemy, and finally, will want to join your ranks and shape the group’s politics and future themselves.
All the other disputes about the “genuine” vanguard status being achieved by assembling varying sets of principles or ideological coda is more in tune with medieval theological or Talmudic disputation, rather than the kind of fresh thinking we need today.
Do They Really Want ‘Specific Demands’ from the Occupiers?
By Carl Davidson
Keep On Keepin’ On
I’m getting fed up with pompous pundits lecturing the ‘Occupy!’ movement for not having a set of specific demands.
A case in point: New York Time financial columnist Joe Nocera quoted at length in a story by Phoebe Mitchell in the Daily Hampshire Gazette on Nov 29. He was speaking at the Amherst Political Union, a debate club at UMass Amherst.
Nocera starts off with the now usual tipping of the hat to the protestors:
“Nocera believes the anger caused by income inequality, a divisive issue across the country in this prolonged economic downturn, is the fuel for both popular uprisings. ‘If we lived in a country that had a growing economy and where the middle class felt that they could make a good living and had a chance for advancement and a decent life, there would be no tea party or Occupy Wall Street,’ he said.”
But we don’t live in such times, and the more interesting story is that OWS and its trade union allies are displacing the Tea Party, and energizing the progressive grassroots. Nocera, however, makes OWS the target.
“He believes that for the Occupy Movement to be successful, it must frame clear demands that outline a plan for creating jobs and refashioning Wall Street to benefit the entire country and not just a select few wealthy investors. Without a solid plan for moving forward, he said, the Occupy protestors will be continued to be viewed by Wall Street supporters as little more than “a gnat that needs to be flicked from its shoulder blades.”
A ‘gnat’ indeed. In due time, a progressive majority may well come to view our dubious ‘Masters of the Universe’ on Wall St as bothersome gnats to be flicked away.
But to get to the main point, Nocero knows perfectly well that there is any number of short, sweet and to the point sets of demands aimed at Wall Street finance capital and the Congress it works to keep under its thumb. Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO has been hammering away at his six-point jobs program—one point of which is a financial transaction tax of Wall Street as a source of massive new revenues to fund the other five.
The United Steel Worker’s Leo Gerard has been tireless for years working for a new clean energy and green manufacturing industrial policy that could create millions of new jobs and get us out of the crisis in a progressive way.
So what happens when these demands are put forward? With our Wall Street lobbyists working behind the scene, the best politicians money can buy declare them ‘off the table.’ Nocera and others of like mind in punditocracy put the cart before the horse. OWS arose as a result of a long train of abuses, year after year of sensible, rational, progressive demands and programs swept off of Congress’s agenda like so many bread crumbs from a dining table. Not even brought to a vote. OWS and a lot of other people are fed up with being dismissed.
The pundits should watch what they wish for. The demands and packages of structural reforms will be back, much sharper and clearer, and with the ante upped by hundreds of thousands in the streets, as well as millions turning out for the polls. In fact, the solutions have always been there for anyone with ears to hear. We’ll see if our voices are loud enough to crack the ceiling at the top, and let some light shine through.
[If you like this article, make use of the PayPal button here ]