Even if your ideal society is one under Eisenhower or Nixon with clear government goals and mild reasonable restraint on unfettered unregulated capitalism, then we are severely off track. What went wrong? Many of us tried with everything we had. Even if we could not change directions, it is worth noting for others who are trying or future generations what we tried to do and failed so the same mistakes are not repeated.
I do not have any easy answers or soundbites here. I have gathered thoughts, strategy, and tactics of those who tried to actually do something. Jeff Roby’s writings are notable for how relevant they still are. The Democratic Party has not changed its strategy at all. (Why mess with something that works?)
For documentation that we are off course see references 1 – 16 containing thousands of references. These are continually updated and documentation continuously added. (References are at the very last of this long bit of writing.)
Occupy was perhaps the most successful movement, but it was put down and we have not been able to repeat it. See reference 17.
Anthony Noel is one of the founders of the New Progressive Alliance. See references 18-26.
Sondra Miller’s experience is very similar to that of many of us nationwide. See reference 27.
Jeff Roby and his wife Rose have been lifelong activists. His other writings can also be found at references 28-30. Cautionary Tales describes Jeff’s experience with the Democratic and Green Party. Mass Consciousness and its disconnects tells of Jeff’s latest efforts and emphasizes the two essential elements of organizing outside of the internet and talking with other like-minded groups. Jeff also has the website Saint Petersburg Independents and a Facebook Page.
Jeff has been at this for a while and we should also look at earlier efforts at change. While I could not fit the full text of these 23 writings here, I have tried to give a good representation of his writings. If you want his full comments, email Jeff or the NPA. It is interesting to have an outside look at the NPA. He is right that it is important to realize what has not worked so far and realize it will take a lot more than Facebook “likes” to bring real change.
Jeff Roby is too hard on himself. Many of us tried our best to turn things around and sacrificed greatly to do it. If the odds were too great or people too unconcerned that does not mean it was not a noble worthwhile effort from which seeds might later sprout.
The first group of his writings is the “Dump Capitalism” series which are nine writings from 09-03-2011 to 11-25-12. Even if you believe in capitalism but just believe there are limits and it should not be unregulated and unfettered there are still some good thoughts on strategy and tactics.
Jeff’s second group of 14 writings range from December 9, 2009 to December 9, 2011. I have listed these from oldest to newest so you can see both the development of Jeff’s ideas as well as the unfortunate deterioration of worldwide events.
Dump Capitalism beyond tactics Part 1 09/03/11
The left keeps chugging along, keeping to its well-worn tracks. It has lots of arguments, some of them smartly conducted, some of them even interesting. There are even occasional insights. But it’s a train to nowhere. Take the debate over working to reform the Democratic Party versus going independent (please!). For all the sound and fury, this is a discussion of tactics. The arguments on both sides are highly moralistic, and are only tactical at best. People may have strategic assumptions, but the strategic assumptions, if existing, are not up for discussion.
And to take it a step further, what kind of organization would be required to answer those questions? Yes, I might have answers. You might even have better answers. But to the extent we operate as separate individuals, WE have NO answers.
Yet the very title of this (Dump Capitalism) is riddled with assumptions, such as it being capitalism that needs to be dumped. But what does “dumped” mean? And if dumped means replaced, then replaced with what? So I think we might take a step back and take a fresh look at our assumptions, look at how we got where we are, as a clue to where we are headed, consider the range of possibilities, look at the future more than the moment, look at the world rather just the U.S.
Off that, we could begin, and only begin, to consider what kinds of new organizations (who would dare argue that the old organizations are working?) have to be built, and how they can be built. One diary can only begin to scratch the surface, but allow me to begin.
The IWW was wrong!
From the preamble to the 1905 Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, or Wobblies) constitution:
The working class and the employing class have nothing in common.
Wrong! Despite bitter, violent battles between capital and labor, grinding poverty amidst gluttonous wealth, outright starvation adjoining glittering splendor, they did have something in common: the Empire. Staked out by the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, in 1905 it was still a’borning, the Philippines its far flung outpost. Quite modest in the shadow of the (bloody) British and French empires, which were already on the U.S. ledger sheets as they went in hock to the U.S. banks to finance the Great War (as WWI was called before they numbered them).
It’s not that the entire labor movement was consciously imperialist, and certainly the IWW’s opposition to the war was a major factor in the government crushing it. But more of it was, under the banner of the AFL, than we might be comfortable with. Certainly WWII was a just crusade against fascism (centered on Germany, Italy and Japan, latecomers to the imperial feast).
But in fact it was the acquisition of the British and French empires, and among the more enlightened American capitalists before WWII, the anticipation of that acquisition, that allowed the U.S. to actually finance Roosevelt’s New Deal. Nor was the New Deal a purely American invention. It had been pioneered in the 1880’s by Prussia’s Iron Chancellor Otto von Bismarck who with “revolutionary conservatism” understood that a happy working class would better support the Prussian state, and that healthy, literate, confident workers would fight better in the trenches.
The Empire reached its heights under Lyndon Johnson, architect of the Great Society, Medicare, and the Voting Rights Act, and many progressives consider LBJ some kind of hero, while before and during his reign the CIA overthrew governments the U.S. didn’t like, assassinated world leaders the U.S. didn’t like, and bullied the entire third world at the behest of U.S. corporations. Liberals concede that Johnson made a mistake in plunging the U.S. whole hog into the Vietnam venture. But hey, who hasn’t made a few mistakes. A mistake that cost the U.S. 58,000 dead and 350,000 wounded. And oh yeah, over 2,000,000 Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian lives. And millions more Cambodian lives at the hands of the post-war Khmer Rouge which the U.S. ultimately supported since the Khmer Rouge were anti-Soviet. But so what? They were foreigners and anyway, who’s counting?
But my point is that the Great Society and the war against Vietnam were a package deal. Did they have to be a package deal? One can quibble. But it’s historical fact that they WERE a package deal.
Thoughts on political deadlock
There was a lot of talk about the political deadlock during the recent deficit debacle, who’s to blame, possible reforms, sides to be taken. Significant questions. But they are not my present concern. Yes, the structure is flawed. But one question NOT asked is how the system functioned as well as it did until now. Not for the poor, not for women, not for Blacks and Latinos, to be sure. But functioned well as a system. The pundits moaned, who stands for the American people? What has happened to the spirit of compromise that has sustained this country so long?
What has happened is that the Empire has hit the wall…
Wile E. Coyote and his discontents
One way to keep our eye on the big picture is to ask not why is the right rising, which too easily dissolves into empirics, but rather why the trajectory of progressive development from the New Deal of the 30’s to the Great Society of the 60’s did not continue into the Super-Duper Deal of the 80’s. It wasn’t just Ronald Reagan’s sunny smile.
Vietnam was like the coyote slamming into the wall, remaining flattened there, then slowly sinking to the ground. The capitalists certainly saw it, as evidenced by the Trilateral Commission’s infamous 1975 report bemoaning the “excesses of democracy.” (Off the democratic gains of the 60’s, people would want and vote for more than the system could provide.)
So to put it from a slightly different angle, the same forces which saw a world of expansionist possibility in 1936 began to see those possibilities dry up post-Vietnam, and embarked on a long-term policy of retrenchment. Americans “got along” only as long as there was expectation of an ever-expanding pie to divvy up. Since then, the so-called liberal media has been given different marching orders, and money is moving to outfits like the Tea Party, the embodiment of Jay Gould’s old boast of being able to hire one-half of the working class to kill the other half.
Progressives have been slow to adapt to this seismic shift. While I concede their good intentions (I was raised to be polite), they are at best fighting to maintain what cannot be maintained.
Radicals sense that there has been a shift, but have not in the aggregate been able to develop an effective tactical (let alone strategic) response…
Perspective is needed
…one has to look at what is being fought for, and not just the intensity of the fight. Otherwise, drunken frat-boys throwing beer cans at the Fort Lauderdale police on spring break could be mistaken for the proletarian vanguard.
So what do we do if the conditions for liberal solutions no longer exist? That we should fight ever harder for liberal solutions? The conditions for which no longer exist?
The organizational question
Let me conclude with setting out one line in the sand. People say revolutionary stuff like let’s take to the streets to force Congress to … Or let’s primary Obama so he will … Militant tactics. To force our current politicians (or at least the Democrats) make the revolution for us. I certainly accept the need to engage in electoral politics. I even hold that there is work to be done within — though not exclusively within — the Democratic Party. But whether we work as Democrats or independents (or, as I advocate, both), for either modest reforms or radical transformations, let it be based on an understanding that capitalism has hit the wall. Let it be based on an understanding that nobody, no future FDR or JFK or LBJ or even Jesus Christ himself, is going to make the revolution for us. Let it be based on an understanding that whatever needs to be done is going to have to done through organization. And cannot be done within the boundaries of the current system.
From that perspective, we can integrate what needs to be done with what can be done.
Those we would follow won’t lead,
those who might lead we won’t follow.
Dump Capitalism 2 – You and What Army? 09/12/11
Oh yeah! You and what army? A crushing retort when I was in the 3rd grade. Right up there with I’m rubber and you’re glue. But not really such a bad question.
You may recall from my last post, Dump Capitalism: beyond tactics (pt. 1), I made two main points: (1) capitalism is beyond repair, and (2) any response to the crisis of capitalism has to have an organizational component. Setting aside discussion of how this crisis will possibly unfold, or what it is to be replaced with, I would like to begin (and only begin) discussing just what kinds of organization or organizations dumping capitalism requires.
This requires a fresh look. We on the left are the remnants of a movement, inherited from the 60’s, which has failed, which is moribund in the face of the brutal assaults of finance capitalism. Yet when we talk about organization, the models we look to are not the vibrant if naive groups that stirred so much fire in the 60’s, but rather the rotting hulks still strewn about the field. Failed organizations, ones that (as organizations do) embody the state of the movement, which is unfortunately the state of death. Not that there are no signs of life sprouting here and there, indeed some very encouraging ones in the U.S. and in other countries, but not so encouraging here in what we used to call the belly of the beast. Still …
From time to time, we run across bold articles declaring “We Must Have the Courage to Examine Our Errors.” Of course, once we start reading, we realize that the title should really be “We Must Have the Courage to Examine YOUR Errors,” not the author’s own. Sigh. Well, let me try to actually look at some of my own, as I think they can be instructive.
A couple years back, I had created an organization called the Full Court Press (FCP). It hoped to run candidates in all 435 Democratic congressional primaries, on the basis of a short program calling first and foremost for a WPA-style jobs program, along with Medicare for all, and defense of abortion rights. The idea — as distinct from the ActBlue approach of trying to win a few target seats with watered-down progressives — was to lose all 435 races. The impact would come from the sheer number of races, that no party hack would go unchallenged. Death from 435 cuts, as it were.
I thought it a good plan. I still think it was a good plan. However …
… it failed
… and failed quickly. Wherever I posted it (particularly on OpenLeft and Docudharma), the FCP got a good measure of enthusiastic support. “Sign me up!” people said. But when it came to the actual activity required to build the legal and financial support apparatus to support individual candidates in ballot access work, it didn’t materialize (except for the stalwart metamars, thank you!).
First, what did “sign me up” mean? Though I was clearly calling for workers, people were more literal. Signing them up meant I would put them on the mailing list while they went running after the next shiny object. But there was a more fundamental problem which I did not anticipate. People claimed to support a plan to run losing races, but in fact they quickly went in two different political directions:
(1) some wanted to start targeting a few races where they could actually win, moving the Democratic Party left; or (2) they were stone independents who liked me wanting to throw a monkey wrench into the Democratic gears but had no taste for dirtying their own hands in a Democratic race of any kind.
Neither camp actually supported the actual plan, let alone worked for it.
There were other difficulties, whether surmountable or not I do not know. If supporters had been willing to create the necessary financial/legal support apparatus, the 435 prospective candidates would still have been isolated from each other, and I think that isolation would have been terminal.
Plan within a plan
So I stopped the FCP. What had I hoped for, beyond the obvious? I had hoped that a cohesive organization could crystallize around the tactic, which could work in elections at every level from dogcatcher to president, Democratic Party or independent, embodying an alliance of progressive independents and progressive Democrats. In the process, there might be a possibility of developing an organization with the long-term goal of attacking the crisis of capitalism.
Next step: Dump Obama!
After licking my wounds a while, I began writing my Dump Obama series.
Dump Obama had two big advantages over the FCP. First, by focusing on one race, the presidential, it created the context for activists scattered around the country to pull together on a unified project, in part overcoming the deadly isolation that I think 435 separate small races would have faced. Secondly, it avoided me having to carry the effort on my own weary back.
I saw Dump Obama developing in either of two ways. If some moderately big name had entered the fray, I hoped that progressives could back the challenger, fight for a WPA-style jobs program, and after the challenger either backed out or was defeated at the Dem national convention, those progressives could have maintained some kind of operation that could pull part of the candidate’s base into the general election behind an independent, Green or otherwise.
The transition from Democratic primaries to independence in the generals would have been messy, but would draw from a large pool of campaigners betrayed by both Obama AND their primary candidate, who would ultimately pledge allegiance to Obama.
The second path, and the one I consider the most viable (especially in hindsight) was outlined in my diary Dump Obama: a Primary Focus. It would have required running a no-name candidate whose claim to fame would have flowed from the lesser task of getting on the primary ballot in maybe 20 states. The media impact would be much less, but control of the candidate’s message would be stronger. And, as with the FCP, making a WPA-style jobs program front and center, and the possibility of creating a core campaign organization able to work both sides of the Democratic fence would have been greater. It appears unlikely that either is going to happen.
I believe the combination of having the political savvy needed to work inside/outside, putting WPA-jobs as the key issue, and running to build organization rather than winning would result in an organization more sophisticated and disciplined than either Democratic reformers or denizens of the 3rd party ghetto.
It nonetheless moves forward
In fact, Dump Obama has been a partial success, as one of the threads leading to the emergence of the New Progressive Alliance (NPA), which will likely survive the 2012 presidential travesty.
I make the following comments about the NPA not antagonistically, but because it raises important issues in organizational development for all of us.
First, it has taken a bunch of commenters on FDL and created an actual organization that can put some boots on the ground. Additionally, it has leadership with an inside/outside strategy, calling as its website states:
We not only support a primary election challenge to Barack Obama in 2012, but will endorse an Independent or third-party candidate to oppose both corporatist marionettes in the general election, provided they publicly pledge to run on the Unified Progressive Platform and to govern based upon it when elected.
It has developed a solid platform, far more developed than the FCP’s, which prominently states:
We support a permanent, WPA-style jobs program wherein, when possible, public sector jobs are “green” jobs, or others which contribute to a more positive future for all. All work must pay at a minimum a local living wage that covers basic needs including food, shelter, clothing, healthcare, childcare, and transport.
… and challenges the limits of capitalism while locating itself solidly in the mainstream. Tony Noel and the NPA membership deserve great credit for having put this together.
While I am not an NPA member myself, and my view is therefore somewhat constrained, I see certain issues arising, as evidenced by the NPA’s public face (their website and comments on FDL). Despite espousing an inside/outside approach, I believe the NPA contains some of the political contradictions that arose within the Full Court Press, i.e., members who would reform the Democratic Party, and those most comfortable as straight independents.
Their website skews independent, as do their comments on FDL. Little mention is made on the site beyond “support a primary challenger.” While they claim to still seek a challenger behind the scenes, the fact that the search is “behind the scenes” is telling.
At the same time, many of the comments on their Facebook page had initially skewed Democrat, as evidenced by the slew of comments excoriating mainly the Republicans (who certainly deserve excoriating), setting at least a tone common to most Democratic Party-leaning sites…
Method raises its ugly head again!
Then there is the matter of tactical method, quite apart from tactics as tactics. This requires explaining.
How does an organization grow AND advance the struggle. Growth alone is not enough. If it were, MoveOn would be the revolutionary vanguard, yet obviously it is a morass of Democratic Party hackery instead. Spontaneous mass action can dramatically advance the struggle, but if it does not lead to NEW forms of organization, then the advances are all too often not consolidated, and the powers-that-be generally prove to have greater staying power.
One example of integration would be a union issuing a set of good demands, and then striking or threatening to strike to back them up. Another proper integration would be to have a radical yet mainstream program AND run a primary challenge against Obama. Merely running a primary challenge with no left demands leaves someone like Al Gore as the revolutionary vanguard and, oh wait, Al Gore???? Sorry. But take all the organizations that have wonderful programs and won’t touch Dump Obama, and … There was once a cartoon where someone asked, “what would happen if all the stupid people got together?” and quickly answered himself, “probably not much.”
So to organize mainly on the basis of program without tactics leads to paralysis. You get members whose orientation is programmatic, while those who are more action oriented will either drift away or go quiescent.
I am not disparaging program per se. A campaign based on just personality or a single demand will tend to break up over time as differences ultimately arise. Nor am I unmindful of the limitations to building specific organization with actual living, breathing people. Once an organizer starts blaming his or her failure on human stupidity, it is time to get out of the business.
That said, the NPA so far has put the bulk of its efforts into developing a rather good program, but in my opinion insufficient effort into building a campaign organization. Thus if an acceptable primary candidate were to emerge, I fear the NPA would be slow to mobilize for the ballot access effort.
In fact, the NPA has a very interesting new post which actually embodies the tension between program and activity:
The New Progressive Alliance needs committed, serious volunteers to join our long-term, grassroots effort to reform the American political system. We don’t want neolibs, Clintonites, Obamabots and other Dem party apologists. We don’t want neocons, Reaganites, Bushies, and other GOP “true believers.” We want people who see through the two-party kabuki foisted upon us every election
Thus it calls for volunteers to be committed, serious and long-term. But apart from the positions it seeks to fill, it defines them by what they should not be: “neolibs, Clintonites, Obamabots and other Dem party apologists. We don’t want neocons, Reaganites, Bushies, and other GOP ‘true believers.’” Overall though, on the right track.
They said I should be committed …
A further issue is one of membership mobilization, getting the troops to work. Organizing around program leads to lesser commitment. Again, at the extreme are hustles like MoveOn, with a massive membership which signs online petitions but mainly puffs up the mailing list and hits it up for money. Left politics as a business. As usual.
At the other pole are campaign organizations (the Democrats love these) which turn out the frenzied election junkies. These creatures thrive on working themselves into a frazzle only to collapse on election day plus one, and then hit the bottle until the next campaign revs up. Unless they hold staff positions, organization building is too boring to catch their attention.
Prescription for paralysis
There are similar — and even starker — issues in coalition dynamics.
I consider primarying Obama to be (or to have been) the cutting edge tactic for progressives. Why? Read your typical Kos diary. “Obama is a dog, Obama is a Republican, Obama wants to gut social security, feed our economy to the banks, create a police state, keep us in perpetual Mid-Eastern wars. And oh yeah, Obama eats working class babies. However, however, however, I’m going to vote for the guy because …” Whatever. Mention a primary campaign and they start to squeal.
Typical across the blogosphere. Who among these folks wouldn’t like the NPA program, or the FCP 5 points, or the Progressive Democrats of America program? One can build coalition around platform easily enough. All that is required is for any group to say, “I’d buy that for a dollar!” But who among them has the heart to do real damage to the Democratic Party for its malfeasances? Or let’s say half of them really would. Can’t get the coalition to do it, because that action would break up the coalition. Thus the most conservative (chickenshit) elements would control the coalition tactically, just as Ben Nelson and his Blue Dog Gospel Choir controls the Democrats in the Senate.
Result: tactical paralysis.
In either case, whether we are talking about a mass membership organization or a prestigious coalition, if there is not a serious focus on how the platform is to be fought for, those members will be, or will become, largely inert. Those organizations will not put their memberships on the line for effective action. Yes, you can have “primary Obama” in the fine print, or a clause in the coalition preamble about taking action as necessary, but you know I’m not talking about legalistic weasel words, I’m talking about the centrality of either action or explicitly building for action (even if the latter process is quite extended)…
Further examining my errors
A key thread in all I have written above is the matter of the understanding, commitment and discipline of organizations and their individual members, though only lightly touched upon.
In my expectations for both the FCP and Dump Obama, I had hoped that a hard core would crystallize out of a larger organization, or mobilization around specific tactics. This, superficially, developed out of the movement of the 60’s. But that movement was more angry, more tactically aggressive, and frankly more ideologically developed (despite the pseudo-sophistication of today’s left). I now question that approach, of in a sense organizing from the outside in. It seems to lead from total mush, to crusty mush, but not the core of steel required to meet the challenges of today. Dumping capitalism is not a program — it is an activity!
In writing this series, I am trying to explore building from the inside out, starting with a much more solid core, and then expanding outwards. I do not despise broader forms of organization, but want to ruthlessly examine their limitations and develop something more tactically fine-tuned and committed.
Such will be the focus of my next diary. Stay tuned.
Dump Capitalism 3 09/27/11
And the left today?
Not so bold. The left is in fact stunning in its timidity, on a personal level and a political level.
The power of the compact minority
In my previous Dump Capitalism 2: you and what army? I point out the difficulties of starting with an organization of broad purpose, and having a more politically solid organization crystallize out of that.
At this point, I am attempting the rather modest task of pointing out the power that can be exerted by relatively small numbers of organizers, provided they have organizational cohesion AND a coherent theory of history, strategy and tactics. This has been to some extent borne out by the current Occupy Wall Street actions, which have had more effective impact with their at most 2,000 people than any of the giant DC demonstrations of past decades. Not IN SPITE OF their small numbers, but I would contend BECAUSE of their small numbers.
I see glimmerings in the Occupy Wall Street actions. Ideologically, they seem to be all over the spectrum, murky at best. But that murkiness is perhaps an asset, as premature ideological precision can only lead to a brittle, intellectual cohesion that would probably crumble at first impact with reality. What impresses me is their ability to devise a plan based on what they can actually pull, not based on the tens of thousands they wish they could pull, or dream they could pull, and carry out the plan within their means. That, to me, is the essence. Ability to act. And in the process, define themselves.
Dump Capitalism 4: and it’s 1, 2, 3… 10/09/11
… what are we fighting for? Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn. Next stop is old Iran. Or Pakistan. Afghanistan. Or China. Or Wall Street. Whatever.
As I discussed previously in Dump Capitalism 3, both the old left and the once-new left of the 60’s were strongly influenced by a vision of socialism, or specifically the wave of revolutionary struggles supported by the Soviet Union. It lent hope, cohesion and a measure of material support. Today, the Soviet Union is gone, socialism is pie-in-the-sky (bye and bye), and hope has until recently been in short supply.
A vision failed
The default vision…is some variation of European social democracy, i.e., capitalism (private ownership of the means of production) remains intact, while the welfare state is expanded, corporations are regulated, civil liberties are extended, and foreign wars are hopefully ended. (This is critiqued at some length in Dump Capitalism: beyond tactics) However, the European social democracies are now on their own path toward austerity and repression, and while the enumerated reforms are worthy, they do not constitute a viable new system.
Utopians and their discontents
Another line of thought is toward the old utopians, with a strong environmental bent. Some variations entail severe de-industrialization, a course that recognizes the unsustainability of the current arrangement but would lead to mass starvation and is awkwardly consistent with the most fascist schemes of a shrinking Empire.
What these new utopians share, however, is a commitment to cooperative, developmental and egalitarian social relations, reminiscent of Marx’s vision, without coming to grips with the matter of getting from here to there. At best, they put forward establishing such cooperative relations now, while trying to actually start building the new society with actions like closing personal bank accounts, buying from small producers and using ecology-friendly products. The road to the new society is envisioned as a linear progression from these small measures to a full-blown new society. I call these “one little candle theories” (if everyone lit just one little candle, what a bright world this would be).
Let me be clear. What I call the new utopians are diverse, intelligent, and serious. And I must assert that a utopian vision is vastly superior to no vision, or the social democratic model which I also consider tantamount to no vision at all. I do consider constructing models of capitalism’s replacement to be folly, on the grounds that it is not possible. But what I believe to be important among these supposedly competing visions is a set of values — of cooperation and care for all of humanity, as distinct from the values of individualism, competition, nationalism and worship of wealth.
#OWS to the fore
What I hope to pose is how progressives can develop a non-linear process…A good starting point would be the Occupy Wall Street (#OWS) movement. My speculations are to generate ideas, not lay out a batch of predictions.
Okay. Left leaders were baffled. How could so few people, without a coherent set of demands, lacking big-name leadership, have so excited (or disturbed) the nation when their own demos in the 100’s of 1,000’s, reeking of political correctness and efficiently herded by hordes of monitors have so utterly failed to raise the slightest ripple? I would contend that the very aspects of #OWS they scorned were what led to their impact.
Perhaps we should flip the question, though. What is it that has been buried in the hearts of the American people that was just waiting to be tapped?
People know in their guts that the crisis of capitalism (even if they don’t call it that) is not going to be fixed by further regulations of the banks, restricting corporate political contributions, tax reform, bailouts, even ending imperial wars and striving for environmental sanity. Unemployment, foreclosures, homelessness and hunger will march on unimpeded. The issue is POWER, and the 99% know they don’t have it. The only way such can be ended is by breaking the back of corporate power.
But why address homelessness by making sure the banks clean up their foreclosure paperwork, when you can just outlaw foreclosure and put people in the million of already empty homes? Why answer unemployment with extending benefits when you can create a new America by, well, having people build it? On and on. If you actually break the back of corporate power, why stop with just putting on band-aids, even really big band-aids?
Problems will abound. Banks shut down? Take them over, etc., etc., etc. You don’t need a blueprint today to do this. All you need when the time comes to do it is the power. Power, oh, that’s such a nasty word. But that’s the name of the game.
In Dump Capitalism 3, I state the impotent timidity of the U.S. left stems from an absence of vision and the lack of a serious plan to achieve it, leaving them with the default position of subservience to the Democratic Party.
A matter of values
#OWS offers a vision, not of socialist blueprints or de-industrialized utopias or social-democratic tinkering, but of a set of values in contradistinction to the barbaric corporate values that have led us to the current crisis.
Well, critics might carp, those values have been around since at least the days of Jesus Christ. True. But what has been lacking…is the projected means to make it happen. What #OWS has created is a glimmering of power to achieve, not to be measured by the brute strength of their own puny — yes, puny — actions in their own right, but by the hysterical response to them across the board, like to a sharp jab to the crazy-bone.
Lost in the flood
From left, right and center, everyone is talking about what #OWS REALLY stands for, while radicals fret about the danger of them being taken over, drowning in a sea of liberalism. I’m not so worried. This is a movement, and movements aborning at first always flow down the existing channels, like a flash flood in the desert raging through parched canyons. But like the flash flood in our current political desert, it eventually overflows the banks and carves new channels. Those liberal “serious people” who try to contain it will be swept under and drowned. The smart ones, seeing a world of new possibility, will be carried forward on the rising waters.
Critical to navigating these waters is understanding the difference between an organization and a movement. A movement follows nobody’s rules, grows (and ebbs) through its own internal dynamics.
Organizations can operate within movements. They can, among other things, consolidate motion, so that with the movement’s ebbs and flows, each new wave can start at a higher level, building on the previous wave rather than merely replicating it.
At this point, I would like to arbitrarily divide movement-based organizations into two types. First there are organizations that reflect the movement, can consolidate the gains at any given point, have large memberships, even conduct negotiations in the name of the movement. That’s good. Somebody has to do it. But our history is strewn with the bleached bones of groups that grew brittle at particular stages, so that when the new waves hit, they resisted, clung to their little positions, consciously tried to hold the movement back, and died. The inscription on the sign over the entrance to the graveyard reads “Democratic Party.”
To the core
In Dump Capitalism 3, I talked about core organizations, of the movement but not the same as, able to work with and within mass organizations yet maintaining their own distinct identity. Their primary value lies in their capacity for leadership. Movements cannot be controlled or directed. When we look at a movement leader, it is usually that leader who is the tool of the movement, not the other way around.
But movements can be influenced. Ideally, the leadership organization has its own vision of the future, can organize individuals toward that vision. But the specific task of the leaders is to look one step ahead, ONLY one step ahead, for what is needed and — like the ju-jitsu master — use the movement’s own momentum to gently guide it in the proper direction.
People instead of profits
What is possible is organizing toward a clear set of values, and against the corporate values we abhor. Simply put, I would advocate that whenever there is conflict between human need versus corporate profit, human need comes first, second and third. In the course of development, things may clarify. But for now, what is touching the heart of the American people is this clash of values, and it is with that heart that we begin.
Dump Capitalism 5 – you get what you organize 03/18/12
…I believe the Occupy movement / organization embodies that perspective to as great a degree as one could hope for.
Occupy as a Movement
A few words, if I might do a little bit of catching up. The question remains as to how progressives relate to the Occupy movement. A favorite sport in progressive circles has been to pontificate on what Occupy should now do. I would rather not indulge in that. The pertinent question is, what should WE do?
As a movement, Occupy has sent shock waves far and wide, transforming the dialogue, impacting our very language. Some have rightly commented on the villainy of groups like MoveOn to seize the Occupy brand, to channel it into getting Obama re-elected, for instance. But the flip side is that MoveOn, for instance, has also been impacted, some of its mass membership radicalized (the price of being a mass organization)…
When Occupy first struck, the country was slightly but significantly destabilized. The state has moved to violently uproot it, and a new equilibrium has been achieved. But things are not the same in that new state of equilibrium. A system that rules through a high level of consensus is capitalism’s system of choice. To the degree that a system rules through brute force, it becomes brittle, unwieldy, inefficient, more vulnerable. Despite the facade of greater strength! “The security of this nation depends on total compliance!” as the villain in “V for Vendetta” rants. A costly bar to attempt, impossible to achieve.
As a movement, Occupy has “lifted all boats.” A more and angry and FOCUSED public creates opportunity for all progressives, from the most depraved to the most revolutionary. You want to elect more progressives to Congress? Do it. Organize it. But I say, YOU do it, don’t think you can get Occupy to do it for you.
You want to take to the streets? Do it. You want to lobby Congress? Do it. You want to write a revolutionary program? Do it. You want to fight for concrete reforms? Do it.
Get my drift? And if you want to build an independent 3rd party, Green or otherwise … here I reach for my can opener.
My perspective for the last few years, from the Full Court Press to Dump Obama, has been to utilize the Democratic Party primaries to build an independent base within the Democratic Party, which could then be organized to support an independent party once the Democratic Party slammed the door in their face. I have to say that the attempt to work the primaries, at least as I envisioned it, has failed. That loud crash you hear is the sound of that door unmistakably and unequivocally slamming.
So what is a poor boy to do (except to play in a rock and roll band)?
Go independent! But what does that really mean? Allow me what might appear to be a substantial digression, further to the organizational questions this Dump Capitalism series has tried to address.
All political questions should ultimately turn on the question of how progressives can exert power? Create change?
Unions, for instance, can use their location in the workplace to shut down the means of production. Even now. Electoral organizations can elect candidates or, at a lesser level, threaten to elect candidates, or at the least shave off the margins of other candidates, which at least constitutes the threat of actual power.
Occupy has already exerted some power. I find it a fascinating question how Occupy’s seemingly puny efforts have done so much more than the millions who have been bussed to DC for any number of good causes. Of course, there’s the obvious answer that Occupy has to date avoided the death trap of the Democratic Party which absorbs any progressive energy. But more fundamentally, they have the potential to mobilize the anti-capitalist rage of the 99% not yet expressed.
The key word is POTENTIAL. Yes, there are situations like the Bolshevik Revolution where hardened agents seize the railroads and telegraph stations, etc. But by and large, power is exerted not as an absolute static force, but as the potential to exert direct force, however many steps removed, and however updated to the current century. One of the most frustrating aspects of the current political scene is that the potential for independent politics is tremendous, but the actual organizing towards that end is utterly miniscule by comparison. (Yes, you can point out all the independent political organizing going on, in an absolute sense, and beat your chest, but the disparity BY COMPARISON with potential is mind-boggling.)
You get what you organize
Their common mode is to unite around a set of demands, whether embodied in revolutionary slogans or seemingly practical reforms (arm the workers or reform the tax code, whatever). They then set out to unite with groups with similar programs, either by forming coalitions or fusing their memberships, or recruiting each other’s members through factional debate. Or simply by building up their mailing lists. They can then use their purported numbers to influence others through financial support, letter-writing campaigns, phone calls, or politely orchestrated demonstrations.
This is a very different mode of organization from actually running an effective electoral campaign. Yes, an electoral campaign may feature a program or platform or a small set of demands. But there is the actual knocking on doors, calls to voters (not to other politicians), putting up the yard signs, staffing with poll watchers, getting out the vote, which requires real volunteers and staff doing real work in a systematic way. Unfortunately, there are so-called campaigns where the mere existence of the correct platform is considered sufficient to induce the masses to rise up, but …
New Progressive Alliance — a case study
Another look at the NPA is instructive. I may seem to pick on them, but in fact I consider them one of the better and more interesting attempts to create a new organization out of the blogosphere, FDL in particular, and thus worthy of analysis.
The NPA emerged in response to the call to Dump (primary) Obama, with a candidate selection process, and a tentative platform billed as priorities. But none of the NPA’s favored candidates ever stepped into the ring, nor did any other until the time for serious ballot access had about run out. In hindsight, the NPA should have entered one of its own, but this could not have happened as it developed.
First, the NPA incorporated itself so that it was not legally possible. Yet the membership also chose not to set up a separate electoral entity which could have done so. Rather, it spent the months following its founding developing the Unified Progressive Platform (UPP). Now, I consider this a very good platform, reflecting a lot of excellent work. But when Aldous Tyler committed to running in the Dem primaries on the NPA’s own UPP, it did not support him, and I learned that the NPA’s own internal process prevented it from actually endorsing him, even if it wanted to, until well into December. When it finally endorsed Rocky Anderson in the primaries, the NPA was unable to even fully mobilize its forces to actively campaign.
I am not terribly critical of that. You can’t do what you can’t do. My point is that an organization organized primarily around programmatics gets a membership organized around programmatics. That is not readily translated into actual campaign activity.
(Ed’s note: Jeff is absolutely right, but there is more to the story. Though Aldous Tyler did back our Unified Platform, he was unsure about actually criticizing Obama. He would not commit to endorsing a Green Party candidate. We finally decided that as long as he endorsed a viable third party candidate – even if not Green – that was a good message. Instead he said after a successful or unsuccessful campaign he would say, “Well Obama, it is now up to you!” This seemed like rallying around the democratic flag with no message at all. Unfortunately, there were no other candidates running because everybody wanted to be Obama’s best friend so we did finally endorse Tyler. Rocky Anderson proved to be a candidate more interested in his own fame than fighting for any cause.
Jeff also is right that programatics (as evidenced by the Unified Platform) is not readily translated into actual campaign activity. The reason we spent so much time on the Unified Platform is to avoid becoming like Move On or the Democratic Party which stand for nothing. We were all tired of the message “We say we are for peace while waging more war.”
To quote one of Jeff Roby’s later writings, “But aren't you imposing a litmus test? Of course. About goddamn time, too. The Democratic Party as it now operates is an orgy of pragmatism. Judged in terms of pragmatism, it has failed utterly unless your pragmatic goal is to attract corporate contributions. Like it or not, litmus has been working for the Republicans in terms of moving public policy to the right…”
We would openly oppose those candidates backsliding and we had a document to prevent the NPA from backsliding. In this we were successful and have maintained the ideals of our organization. Unfortunately, we were not able to grow it and eventually changed from a 527 political organization to a 501c4 educational organization.)
As Kermit said, it’s not easy being Green!
As I said above, going back to independent electoral politics, the disparity between the potential for independent politics and its actualization is immense. Much has been said about the Greens, pro and con. My starting premise is that they have the best independent game in town. Inadequate, in my judgment, but nonetheless the best independent game in town. How is that disparity to be engaged?
For now, I’d like more feedback on the Greens from FDL readers, pro and con. I have more to say, but let’s start there.
04/15/12 Dump Capitalism 6: not easy being green
A short tale from 1980:
Back in the day when Barry Commoner was running for President as the nominee for the Citizens Party, I was heading up the San Francisco branch. We were petitioning to get Commoner on the California ballot. So on a beautiful Saturday morn, I cunningly organized our petitioning thus: We would meet at a member’s home, have coffee and donuts, go forth to petition in pairs, then return to hand in our signatures and share our experiences in anticipation of next week’s foray.
There were those who called this “cockamamie”! They argued that people should just drop in, get their petitions, and go forth at their own pleasure, returning sigs to the office when they had filled out as many petitions as they chose to get filled out.
It might have been interesting to have done a controlled study of the effectiveness of each method, but to my thinking, efficiency was not paramount. The critical task was to build the chapter, to build organization. Utilizing the Heroic Individual model, one started with a collection of individuals, got signatures, and ended up with pretty much the same collection of Heroic Individuals. No, that’s not actually true. You ended up with a number of burned-out individuals who were not available for doing anything for the Citizens Party itself until the 1984 campaign. Oh wait, there wasn’t any 1984 campaign, bummer, man.
The coffee and donuts approach was able to build ongoing activity, and develop a core of people willing to continue working to build the party AFTER the election. Was it a rousing success? Well, the Citizens Party itself was not a rousing success, particularly weak in large urban centers, and in any event, Commoner moved to drag his followers back into the Democratic fold the day after the election. Bummer, man.
But the difference in approaches is nonetheless profound.
Fast forward to today
I have for years argued for working in the Democratic Party primaries to sharpen contradictions within the party and strengthen the base for an independent breakaway. On the face of it, this approach has failed, as I have explored in previous posts. On the other hand, this very failure makes the case (though not necessarily the base) for going independent stronger than ever. But one response to this failure is to eschew electoral politics altogether. I strongly disagree.
Dial back to 1905
The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) at one time were the leading edge of the U.S. labor movement. One debate that raged hot and heavy was over the merits of signing contracts. Radicals argued (correctly, for the record) that signing a contract after a particular struggle was to enjoy their gains WITHIN the boundaries of capitalism, rather than continuing to try to overthrow it. This approach was effective while the movement, qua movement, was on the upsurge. However, as the movement waned from time to time, as movements do, the bosses waged counter-offensives that rolled back those gains and worse.
The more conservative American Federation of Labor (AFL) did sign contracts. And during the employer counter-offensives, they were better equipped to hang on to their gains through having signed contracts to defend.
Fast forward to Occupy, I would argue that electoral politics, as treacherous as it is, is a means of consolidating the gains of the Occupy movement, by impacting the electoral process even if not actually electing their own. In saying this, I hope I have made clear, but state again, that I am not advocating that Occupy itself turn to electoral politics. Rather, I argue that Occupy should maintain its radical stance while building a relationship with independent electoral forces that support Occupy, while not BEING Occupy. Bottom line: direct action/electoral politics is not an either/or.
It’s not easy being Green
What really riles me is that last summer, all sorts of people were saying things like I’ve had it with Obama. I’ve had it with the Democratic Party. I’m never voting for a Democrat ever again. I’m voting independent. I’m voting Green. Socialist. 3rd party. Jill Stein. A contemporary version of this was posted today (April 15), drawing a hefty 149 comments as of this writing. But since then, those people have largely ceased to be an effective force, at least in the aggregate. They have made their individual decisions. They call on others to make similar, but I would argue nonetheless individual, decisions.
Recall the little story I began this post with. What is not happening, as far as is manifest on the pages of FDL, is concerted, organized, collective action to support a 3rd party.
FDL’s pages have, however, featured some earnest discussion of the Greens. In my opinion, the Greens are the only independent game in town, with some following, organization in many states, and ballot status in a significant number. However, there are many criticisms.
(1) They are over-invested in program, the disease I ranted on in Dump Capitalism 5, and hence have a history of unnecessary sectarian squabbling over programmatics.
(2) There are many accounts of people trying to become involved with the Greens, only to be either ignored or even rebuffed.
(3) Some state Green parties only campaign in states that are not considered battleground states, i.e., states where they could be accused of costing the Democrat the win.
(4) There are accounts of party meetings that are badly organized, utterly unable to take effective action.
(5) The Green stance towards the rank-and-file of the Tea Party is highly sectarian, missing an opportunity to form alliances at the base.
(6) Overall, there is a sense of overwhelming bureaucratic inertia, evidenced by the total lack of impact they have had on the current presidential race to date.
(7) Accompanying point 6 is a glorification of localism. Right now, there is an opening for independent politics you could drive an armored division through, and throwing it away is hardly a virtue.
(8) Personally, a while back, I repeatedly tried to reach the Green national office, tried all their national numbers. Could not get a live human. Left messages. Couldn’t get a call. This is localism in action?
The complaints reflect a deadly passivity, from, at best, “I’ll vote for them holding my nose,” to “This is why I don’t support them [despite wanting to vote independent].”
On the upside, these criticisms do not seem to apply to Jill Stein, the leading contender for the Green Party nomination. By all accounts, she is campaigning vigorously, despite her receiving little support from the party organization itself. And there are murmurings from the Greens that they might realize that this could be their year.
So I repeat …
The Greens are the best independent game in town. But what is to be done? Again, the San Francisco tale. People are making individual decisions. People are calling on others (a step forward, to be sure) to make independent decisions. But the problems listed above are serious.
Disclaimer: I don’t say this about all of the Green Party organizations, but accounts of the exceptions are not filling the pages of FDL, though posts and comments concerning Jill Stein’s candidacy seem to indicate that she is doing what needs to be done, despite the lethargy of the Green organization.
I can’t accept this state of affairs. To my thinking, the Greens are OUR independent party, whether any of us are registered Green or not (I am). Whether we like it or not. Whether they like it or not.
… and again and again and again! I repeat that key is the organizational question, which has been the question from Dump Capitalism 1 to this one to Dump Capitalism 99. So I could gnash my teeth and rail against the nattering nabobs that “you all ought to get in there and build the damn thing! Energize it! Reach out!” But then I would be committing the very sin I see in others, i.e., appealing to individuals to take individual action, even if it were the individual action I prefer. Sorry, doesn’t work that way. The only way “independent” independents are going to have impact is through collective action. And collective action happens through organization.
A likely outcome to current exhortations to go Green is that INDIVIDUALS may try to become involved in actually building the Green Party, only to be absorbed into what already is — and is insufficient. Or individuals would be INDIVIDUALLY rebuffed by bureaucracy and indifference, and become more dispirited than ever.
I throw it to you
Yes, here I throw it open. I have made serious and solid proposals in the past, but got insufficient buy-in to make them work, however brilliant they may have seemed to me on paper. We need something, something new, but what? We need a process. I have at times been critical of the New Progressive Alliance (NPA). But the NPA was a serious attempt to crystallize something out of the discussions on FDL. Does that experience provide us any guidance? One of my main concerns is that any process not get bogged down in programmatics. When I was trying to start the Full Court Press, it took me about 5 minutes to come up with a few main thrusts:
WPA-style jobs program
Healthcare for all
Full defense of abortion rights
U.S. out of Iraq and Afghanistan
Various people raised issues they thought should be added, but nobody ever actually lifted a finger on the basis of their favorite program point being added or excluded.
The Bolsheviks did it with Bread, Land and Peace
As long as an effort is anywhere near left-of-center, I don’t give a rat’s ass (do I lose the PETA vote here?) about programmatic details. The Greens have all sorts of program points, and very good ones, I might add. Huge effort has gone into it, and it is often argued that we must offer real solutions to the issues of our day.
But the key word is “offer”
Having great solutions on paper is useless unless they are truly offered, i.e., broadcast, campaigned for, taken to the streets and door-to-door. The Greens are OUR organization and we need to organize ourselves to make it work to the max.
So to paint some very, very broad strokes, I believe we need some kind of organization, an organization that is NOT the Greens, but which supports the Greens, or supports Jill Stein, to make it work to the max.
Dump Capitalism 7: the coming storm 09/09/12
So I’m trudging off to this past Wednesday’s monthly meeting of the Pasco County Green Party. Hell, I am the Pasco County Green Party. My main emotion is relief that my just-repaired car didn’t break down again. And with the world going to hell, part of me is quietly hoping that nobody else will show up, that I’ll have nothing to work with, that I can give up with some small shred of dignity. I’m old, sick, poor, and so terribly, terribly tired.
I get to the restaurant, and nobody is there, not even customers. Except some stranger looking around who waves to me. He’s from St. Petersburg, to the south. And we are soon joined by Jen, the organizer from Tampa. We meet. I lay out my very modest plan to try to work the 170 or so Green registrants in this sprawling county with its Confederate flags adorning the barely paved streets. We kick around a few ideas, we build on them, there are moves to be made. Small moves to be sure, but useful.
That’s all I need to keep going. We shake hands at the end, I head for home feeling a little less old, not quite so sick. Not too tired. Off to face the coming storm.
Why the Greens?
I’ve become less willing to suffer fools gladly. I consider the U.S. left, taken as a whole, as a cesspool. It has pursued “more and better Democrats” for decades, before collapsing utterly as Obama yanked out the Public Option during the Great Healthcare Debacle. I have ranted against the 3rd party ghetto as well, the comfortable niche occupied by radicals who think it is enough to have the correct program but otherwise keep their hands from getting dirty.
My greatest anger is that the left has turned its back on the poor. Won’t defend them. Certainly won’t organize them. Only raises their plight as an argument for supporting the latest crop of Democrats. So how come I’m now working with the Greens?
After all, everyone knows that they are just a bunch of aging middle-class hippies who care more about trees than real people, a rap that dovetails neatly against the media’s snide slurs about the Occupy movement being a bunch of pajama-clad rich kids living in their parents’ basements.
So get this pitch from Green presidential candidate Jill Stein’s January 25 State of the Union speech, right up top after the customary greetings:
One hundred and forty-six million people – that’s nearly one in every two Americans – is now living below or near the poverty level. The stress falls hardest on our most vulnerable and disadvantaged, with the majority of children, half of our elders, three quarters of Latinos, and two thirds of African Americans living in or near poverty.
Last year, one million Americans lost their health insurance, raising the numbers of the uninsured to almost 50 million of our people. Over 6 million Americans have lost their homes to foreclosure.
Thirty million college students and recent graduates are trapped in the financial prison of student loan debt. Most students must take out costly loans to meet the skyrocketing cost of tuition. Yet paying off those loans is almost impossible as young people face double-digit unemployment and much lower pay – 40% less – than their parents’ generation received for the same work.
Overall, nearly 25 million Americans are unemployed or unable to find full time work. And even those who have jobs are struggling, because wages have been declining for American workers, and are now lower on average than in 1996. Household income has fallen faster since the official end of the recession than during the recession itself, because the so-called “recovery” is made up of mostly low paying jobs.
Over seven million are under “correctional supervision”, 10 times greater than in 1965, as incarcerating poor people – disproportionately of color – has become big business with the failed war on drugs. And more African American males are now locked up in US prisons than were slaves in 1850.
America’s creed is “With Liberty and Justice for All.” That is a creed of Equality. But right now we are experiencing the worst economic inequality in our nation’s history. The gap between the very rich and the many poor has never been so great. The wealthiest 1% in America now own as much wealth as 90% of all Americans. Those over 65 hold, on average, 47 times as much wealth as heads of households who are under 35. White families own, on average, twenty times as much as Black families. Such inequality is unacceptable, unconscionable* and un-American.
(Ed’s note: I included the above because these trends have continued and intensified. I too fell in love with Jull Stein in 2012 and contributed both time and more money than I could reasonably afford. She seemed to learn nothing from her 2012 experience and her 2016 campaign so far is more isolating and pleading “Just give me money!” Meantime Florida Greens have isolated and ignored Jeff Roby for the awful crime of organizing just as he and his wife Rose promised they would.)
As for Occupy, the leading demands for their recent march on the Charlotte Democratic Convention were: “Money for Education, Housing, Healthcare & All Human Needs — not for War & Incarceration. Jobs and Economic Justice are their constant theme. And we know that they have put their asses on the line for this.
These are an important development on the left. I am not campaigning to get Occupy to formally endorse or campaign for the Greens, but they are pursuing similar tracks, through different tactics, and the alliance is tangible if not formal, held together through a commitment to the poor that is only mouthed by most of the left.
But as I mentioned above, the plight of the poor is now being invoked to whip the left into lockstep behind Obama. Independents often respond reactively, and fall into a trap.
Crudely put, the Democrats play a sinister role in disarming the 99%, as we have seen in the past four years, while the Republicans drive the public dialogue ever further to austerity and repression… I attribute it to the left’s gutlessness, cynicism and mendacity… But Obamacrat strategy in fact depends on the American people NOT being mobilized. That would complicate how they have capitulated to the right at every turn, because they have been PAID to do so, and how they will continue to do so.
The Progressive Dem/Progressive Indy alliance
I have long called for an alliance of progressive independents and Progressive Dems (still the betrayed base of the Democratic Party), using the Democratic Party in the primaries and going independent in the generals. But this has failed on two levels.
First, the failure of the left to mount a primary challenge to Obama makes clear that the conditions do not exist for using the Democratic primaries to build a base, however attractive it may appear on paper.
Secondly, as Chairman Mao so succinctly put it, “it takes two to tango.” And the independent wing of such a projected alliance does not exist, at least not in sufficient strength. One could conclude from this that there is nothing left but despair. Or, as I think on my better days, one could conclude that the independent force has to be built. And I believe that its foundation must be the poor, those who are in the crosshairs of the coming bi-partisan onslaught.
As stated before, two critical elements are the Occupy movement and the Green Party. The Occupy movement seems to be doing quite well, thank you, despite their no longer being the media darlings. They are digging in and building the foundation for future action.
As for the Greens …
There have been many criticisms of the Greens, and I have certainly made them myself. Many problems. But they stem from weakness, not malfeasance.
I’m not sure what direct impact the Greens will have in this election. I suspect that whatever impact it does have will stem less from mobilizing any great forces itself, than from it simply being on the ballots and attracting those looking for a progressive alternative to Obama/Romney when they step into the voting booth. That’s okay. We’re in this for the long haul. What will mark the success or failure of Green 2012 will have to be the extent the party can use the current campaign to develop solid organization. This, however, will require transformation(s).
First, take those thousands of progressives who spout how they are fed up with Obama, with the Democrats, who are VOTING Green this year. Fine. But how about WORKING Green this year? We don’t need cheerleaders — we need organizers. We need people who can make a specific commitment that bears some relationship to the danger we are all in, which the blogs trumpet daily without drawing corresponding conclusions. They cry “the American people must do this, the American people must do that,” without an inkling of how that is to come about, how their bold battle cries would turn into concrete mobilization. In other words, these bold radicals need to track down their local Green chapters and find ways to build them.
But a second transformation is also required. Among the complaints about the Greens, there is a steady theme of those who wanted to support the Greens, but were greeted with less than open arms. This is what I call the 3rd-party ghetto mentality, a certain, if not comfort with, acceptance of remaining small, remaining marginal, remaining impotent. There is a certain chicken/egg problem here. From the current Green perspective, what is the use of coming up with all sorts of organizing plans, brilliant as they may be, if they don’t have the resources to carry them out?
And if you want to volunteer, well, why bother if there is no eagerness to use your energy and enthusiasm?
We’ve grown hardened, tired, cynical. The left has suffered one defeat after another, as the country’s drift to fascism threatens to become a headlong rush. I myself feel foolish, naïve, a sucker once again, and again and again. But we need to start making a leap of faith. A la Field of Dreams, the Greens have to embrace “If we build it, they will come.” And serious radicals have to believe “If I come, they (we) will build it”!
We need to make this leap of faith because the two movements, of radicals to join, and Greens to organize, will not happen in synch, will not automatically mesh, will lead to all sorts of awkward moments, embarrassments, misapplied energies. This isn’t a problem. This is what growth looks like, this is what power looks like.
I fear that I make this sound too big, perhaps too much to wrap our arms around, because so much is demanded by the historical moment. But in other ways, it can be very small. So recall the introduction to this piece. Sometimes all it takes is just showing up. And knowing that if you show up, there may be someone else who doesn’t walk away.
10/28/12 Dump Capitalism 8: the bloody morning after
Whoever wins, after election day it will [continue to] be bloody, for the poor, for the working class, even for that mythical creature known as the middle class. And it’s that bloody morning after we should be thinking about.
Any plan that does not embrace the day after is no plan at all
I recall my volunteer days working on Democratic Party campaigns in San Francisco in the 70’s. The campaign staff would work us into a frenzy — lit drops, registration tables, etc. (but not community outreach, that was their turf). All for the glorious cause. It served two purposes. Of course it did further the glorious cause, rent control, district elections, defeating Prop 13, whatever. But more importantly to the paid honchos, it left the troops exhausted, burnt out, and hung over. Meanwhile, the Democratic heavies were poised like jackals to move in the day after and grab up the spoils, steal the credit, allocate the blame, and divvy up the staff jobs while the rest of us were left with bitter memories of opportunities squandered.
Wake me when it’s over
I’m getting deadly bored with the state of the current debate. Just how bad is Obama? How much worse is Romney? Is either a lesser evil? Or are they equal evils? At this point, minds are made up, and the debate has become a lifeless ritual masking a dearth of strategic thinking.
For the record, I am fully supporting — indeed, working for — the Jill Stein/Cheri Honkala ticket and the Green Party. But those bold radicals who say over and over that they can’t comprehend why anyone would vote for Obama? At the least, they show a shocking lack of imagination.
The key question, in my opinion, is not whether the Greens are programmatically better or morally superior — though they are easily both — but whether they can grow into a significant force in the coming decade. I contend that they can. But for that to happen, it will require transformation of the left and, more importantly, transformation of the Green Party itself. I also contend that such transformation is now underway, and has the potential, along with the Occupy movement, to transform the left.
It’s all Nader’s fault
A superficial review of the last several Green presidential campaigns does not give great cause for optimism. After Nader received 2,883,105 votes (2.74%) as the Green candidate in 2000, the party went into steep decline. In 2004, David Cobb squeaked out 119,859 votes (0.096%), and in 2008 facing the Obama juggernaut, Cynthia McKinney managed 161,603 (0.12%) or 5.6% of Nader’s 2000 tally. 2012 will be different, quantitatively and qualitatively.
First, Stein has polled at 3% of the vote, according to OpEdNews, with a jarring 1% in battleground Ohio. Those numbers may shrink some as we are engulfed by lesser-evil frenzy, but it could still potentially rival Nader’s 2.74%. But it’s not just Stein’s personal numbers that are making Democrats (not only in Ohio) sweat. For a vote for less-known Stein is not so much a vote for a celebrity as it is a vote for a party, and a party is a much tougher sell than a personality.
Nader catches blame from all sides, most frequently for having cost Gore the 2000 election, especially from those who conveniently forget his running mate, Joe Lieberman. But in independent circles, he is excoriated for his failure to run so as to build the Green Party itself, rather than advance his own fame.
And I say yeah, yeah, that’s all true. But at least as significant is the failure of the Green Party itself to use Nader to build the party. After all, when you invite a big-name celebrity to carry your banner, you get … a big-name celebrity doing the same things he did to become a big-name celebrity in the first place (“you knew I was a snake before you let me in,” as the old song goes).
Could then a smarter Green Party have been able to equal Nader’s numbers in 2004? Of course not. As I mentioned, a left party is a harder sell than a big name. Still, there was a massive failure to consolidate. Could it have been different? Maybe not, even probably not. Experience counts. But this is 2012 and it’s a very different ballgame. We now have a party working to act like a party.
As David McCorquodale, co-chair of the party’s newspaper Green Pages, wrote in the Fall 2012 issue, “… into the breach stepped the pairing of Dr. Jill Stein as candidate and Ben Manski as campaign manager … The campaign began to assume a role that we might expect the National Party to fill, but which it currently can’t do for lack of money and volunteers … So what is going on here? I believe we are seeing the evolution of the way the Green Party must operate in order to move forward … The focus of the current campaign is clearly about building the party.”
Then there is the historic moment.
It’s the end of the world …
To be sure, clever leftists have long pointed out the duplicity of the two-party system, the crisis of capitalism, 1066 and all that. But for those of us who still endure the bourgeois media, we see that this has penetrated the mainstream, is in fact becoming the common wisdom. The New York Times almost daily illuminates the plight of the former middle class, Romney is more passionate than Obama about the misery of the poor and factors the underemployed into the unemployment numbers, which Obama is vested in ignoring. All they lack is solutions.
This coincides with (is driven by, and drives) the historic moment. Yes, to the left this is always the “historic moment,” the crisis is upon us, never before, the system exposed, to the barricades, to the barricades, to the barricades! — or at least send us some money — with the regularity of doomsday prophets declaring the end of the world, only 60 shopping days till the end of 2012. We become numb, been there, done that. But yes, Virginia, there really are historic moments.
… and I’m feeling fine
For the Green Party has solutions: government to create jobs, guarantee and strengthen the safety net, and pay for it all by taxing the corporations, ending our wars, and gutting the Pentagon. The liberals aren’t even trying to put forward solutions. Please note that the Green Party, labeled as a bunch of middle-class hippies who love trees more than people, is backing Stein’s Green New Deal, which focuses on jobs, security, welfare, along with war and peace and the environment, and in nominating Cheri Honkala, a leading anti-poverty activist, has opened up the party to building a base among the poor and working people.
Revolution in the Evolution
But truly seizing the moment requires a revolution in the evolution. So I’m stepping out of the debate over what to do on election day. Hopefully my position is clear.
Now I ask, what are your plans for the day after? In 2008, the left lined up for the holy crusade of healthcare reform, and collapsed utterly in the wake of Obama dropping the Public Option and creating instead a massive bailout for the insurance industry. What’s the holy crusade this year? Obama’s jobs program? Doesn’t have one. (Stein calls for “nationally funded but locally controlled direct employment initiative … public sector jobs.”)
Obama’s defense of the safety net? He’s planning “adjustments” to reduce the deficit. (Stein: supports the RIGHT to healthcare, free education, jobs, affordable housing and utilities.)
Obama’s plan for the Middle East? Drone wars, back Israel in crushing the Palestinians, bludgeon Iran, send in more commandos. (Stein: “repealing the Patriot Act … reducing military spending by 50%.”)
Obama’s plans to tax the rich? Making them “pay a little bit more.” (Stein: tax “in proportion to ability to pay … End taxpayer funded bailouts for the banks.”)
And so it goes.
My god! We’re used to our liberal heroes making promises and then breaking them. But Obama isn’t even making promises. And if he loses, does anyone think that congressional Dems will fight for ANYTHING?
Boots on the ground
Once upon a time, radicals fought for the merits of radical solutions over liberal solutions. Now, even liberal solutions are tagged as radical, and liberals are fighting for solutions that were once tagged as conservative. If elections aren’t your thing, then take to the streets by all means. We Greens will represent you. But if you think the electoral arena still has its uses, then the Greens are it. Either way, we have to get free of the clickosphere. You get boots on the ground by putting your damn boots on the ground.
Won’t be easy. I’ve read a variety of criticisms around working with the Greens, serious matters, to be sure. But I think they stem from the Greens being understaffed (or not staffed) and underfunded. Certainly where I am in Florida is a drastic example. Getting off the dime is hard. Incorporating new blood doesn’t lighten the burden on current members. It actually increases that burden on the individuals, even as the organization grows. They call it growing pains for a reason.
But here’s what decides it for me. The party is keenly (even painfully) aware of the historic moment, is committed to transformation, even thirsting for it, and is willing to work through what has to be worked through to make it happen.
Of course, you can always stand aside and wait for the party to become good enough to be worth your participation. Or you can fight like hell to MAKE it happen!
11-25-12 Dump Capitalism 9: Chairman Jesus says:
Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
For I was hungry, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
— Matthew 25:40
An injury to one is an injury to all!
The Green Party made great strides in the past election. In fact, on November 6, there were two elections. The first, obviously, was the Obama/Romney/Stein race. While Stein got trounced, her 424,789 votes nearly tripled the Greens 2008 total, a serious resurgence from what some thought a deadly slide into oblivion. More interesting, however, was the race among left-of-center independents, and in that one the Greens kicked some serious ass:
In California, where Barr had the line of the venerable Peace and Freedom Party, Stein outpolled Barr 57,840 to 49,534, and in Florida a very weak Green Party still got 8,757 to the big celebrity’s 8,022 (McKinney got 2,791 there in 2008) (last figures I could get). The much-hyped Rocky Anderson was overwhelmed 11 to one, and the Socialist Party barely got on the map.
So while there were vigorous discussions over the relatively minor programmatic differences among the left independents, now that the smoke has cleared away, it is clear that for left-of-center electoral politics, the Green Party is it. But as a dying Uncle Ben told Peter Parker (Spiderman), “With great power goes great responsibility.”
In that regard, more important was the move in the Greens political direction to the economic front. Thus Jill Stein leads with calling for a WPA-style jobs program. Thus the nomination of Cheri Honkala, a leading anti-poverty activist and defender of the social safety net. Thus the Green platform backing this up with the demand for heavily taxing the rich, and gutting the defense budget.
There is a coherent package here:
- Force government to create jobs
- Defend and expand the safety net
- Soak the rich
- Gut the Pentagon
I would go farther. I would argue that the Green Party should campaign explicitly to build on the advances of 2012 and build an electoral base among the poor. And that the broader left should join in to support that effort.
Pardon my manners, but . . .
. . . I have to break the rules of polite progressivism. See, we’re all supposed to pursue “our thing,” and support everyone else doing “their thing,” and not try in vulgar Stalinist authoritarian crude and rude fashion to and not argue that our priorities are more important than anyone else’s. We’re all supposed to be a bunch of cool little Fonzies, cool in our acceptance of our collective impotence.
But suppose there ARE priorities, and the left as currently configured is collectively making a vast strategic error in not changing its priorities, in not making a strategic turn to organizing for and with the poor.
I argue for this not on grounds of human compassion, since that and a couple dollars will get you a cup of Starbucks. Would that it weren’t the case.
Nor do I join those who would mobilize the poor since they believe in a direct correlation between degree of oppression and revolutionary militancy. The track record here is mixed at best
Rather, we must organize the poor out of political necessity.
Why the poor? Why do I insist upon the particular cohesive package of jobs, safety net, tax the rich and gut the Pentagon? It flows as a direct counter to the Obamacrat strategy for crushing us all, once called the working class, now the better- but inaccurately-named 99%, the so-called middle class and the poor, to eliminate all resistance to unrestrained plutocracy just as the imperial system enters a prolonged stretch of financial/political crisis.
The Romney/Ryan plan was quite simple — mobilize the rich to crush the 47% as a brief prelude to crushing everyone else. Given that we are still ostensibly living in a democracy, and corporations still need folks to buy their goods, this was a bridge too far.
The Obamacrat plan, on the other hand, is a shade more subtle: set the poor and those of the working class who see themselves as middle class (a term I’ll allow to indulge popular terminology) against each other first. Destroy the poor, leaving the middle class thereby isolated and defenseless as they are next for the chopping block. It doesn’t have the decency to pose as a secret plan.
More specifically, the Obamacrats plan to pose as the heroic defenders of the middle class by championing keeping George Bush’s tax cuts only for the middle class. At the same time, “adjustments” are to be made to Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid, while a broad array of services are destroyed at the state and local level leaving no blood on Obama’s hands. Yes, these service cuts will also harm the middle class, but the congressional kabuki will probably be able to sell this — until the damage is done.
The poor are on their own, while the middle class lets them go down as the price for their own brief reprieve. This will work unless we can fight it. But how might this play out?
A few points can be drawn from the experience of the 30’s. First, there is no natural affinity between the poor and the middle class. In fact, the Obamacrat strategy depends on tension between the two. However, there are practical reasons for this alliance.
- Poor and middle class share a common enemy – the rich.
- They have a practical common interest in defending and strengthening the safety net.
- They have a practical common interest in a federal jobs program, as mass unemployment drives down wages and conditions for everyone.
- They have a practical common interest in getting the rich to pay for it.
But how is this alliance to be made concrete?
In the 1930’s, all strategy centered on organizing at the point of production, shutting it down, or threatening to shut it down. As Mine Workers president John Lewis put it, “You can’t dig coal with bayonets!” The picket line was the joint activity, coupled with support for FDR and the New Deal.
Today, the picket line is not the primary arena of struggle, and there is no FDR to get behind. The available nexus is the electoral arena. I know there have been long discussions of the merits of electoral politics as the road to revolution or working class empowerment, or whatever. I am not here passing judgment on that one way or the other.
However, on a tactical level, electoral politics provides a legitimate, structured framework within which we can organize, and at the least get out our message. For now, I’ll settle for that.
And if you ARE serious about electoral politics, then the Green Party is the way to go. (See the numbers at the beginning of this piece.)…the party’s natural strength is not its ability to run superior candidates for dogcatcher who are really good at catching dogs, but its offering big and serious solutions to big problems like jobs, poverty and war… The Green Party arouses the most interest when running a national campaign. Local races can be run to build toward this, but local races don’t necessarily do so. And those trolls who argue that the Greens should stay out of the national arena UNTIL they have won, yes outright won, scads of local races are just offering their version of the carny barker’s “Go away son, you bother me!”
Congressional races are 2014, a natural for the Green call for jobs. The question is, how can we use 2013 to build toward that? We need help. For better or worse, the Green Party stands at a critical historical juncture: the continuation of the economic crisis and the war on both the poor and the so-called middle class, and the Democrats abandoning any pretense of fighting for what has traditionally been their base.Fighting for the poor is a strategic necessity, not just a liberal good deed. It is also an unnatural act if it to be ultimately sustainable…
For now, I’ll end with the lament of the German middle class stunned and overwhelmed by the rise of Nazism:
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.
(Ed’s note: Below in order of time are Jeff’s 14 other articles.)
12/09/2009 For a Full Court Press: what the Open Left brouhaha was about
This is the piece that briefly got posted on OpenLeft Saturday night, was yanked under orders from Chris Bowers on Sunday, and was the target of a bizarre counter-attack by Bowers on Sunday night. I outline this in my comment http://www.docudharma.com/show... on BuhdyDharma's Blogging and the Left thread.
It is merely a simple tactic, and a work in progress.
The health care reform debacle is beginning to stink to high heaven, whether or not some rotted carcass labeled "reform" ever gets passed.
Obama now proudly walks in the footsteps of Lyndon Johnson and George Bush as he ships 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.
Hopes of seriously regulating Wall Street have been dashed to bits by the Goldman Sachs economic team Obama has put in charge of the henhouse, while Wall Street pockets the bailout money that we gave them and plans its next round of Ponzi schemes.
Working families only face more unemployment, and foreclosures, while employers exploit the hard times to crack down on the still employed, and the social safety net provided by state and local governments is ripped asunder.
At this moment, Obama's Fed nominee is touting creating jobs by gutting Social Security.
And hope is dying.
The progressive movement had had all sorts of hopes in the last presidential election. I remember being in tears watching the solemn but joyous crowd gathered in Lincoln Park that election night. We had won, and with a Democratic president and Congress, we would continue to fight for the hopes that had been held in check for so many years. Yes, Obama said things that made me uneasy, but I had hope in the people who had carried him into office. We the people would provide that extra measure of strength that our elected officials would need to see through all their promises.
Things were shaken up with the 2006 elections. Progressives talked tough about Bush and the war and behold, Democrats got elected. Try it again in 2008, we thought. For one golden moment, it seemed to be working again. America was moving left, and would continue to move left, now we could pass progressive legislation, elect more Democrats in 2010, visions of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal in the 1930's dancing in our heads. But it now looks like all that still evokes the 1930s is the misery.
Obama went Wall Street, went military-industrial complex, went with the Bush torture regime. But hope didn't die easy. See, we were told, Obama had this master plan, pacify the right, make the generals happy, lean over backwards for the Republicans, and then we would see the greatest piece of social legislation since Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. Health care reform. Health care, as Obama had proclaimed during the campaign, as a human right. Details kept out of sight, shadow-boxing over public option, Stupak kept under the radar.
Then in the week preceding the passage of the House version, the hideous truth was revealed. Nothing until 2014, a bloody stump of a public option, mandate to force the uninsured to buy what they can't afford, no price controls. Stupak. Lieberman. Maybe a commission to cut Social Security.
Public option stalwarts Howard Dean and Anthony Weiner were suddenly on board, Stupak and all, because of that bloody stump.
The blogs were ablaze. We've been betrayed, kill this monstrosity. No, it's great, don't be a purist. Save abortion rights. No, improve it later. I've been checking some of the blogs. Now OpenLeft's Chris Bowers has a big piece explaining why he shifted his position. Firedoglake's Jane Hamsher is touting the bill as a victory because of its bloody stump of a public option, having once absolutely insisted that if it didn't have a ROBUST public option, it should be defeated. Firedoglake's readers are not impressed. Matt Yglesias touts the "Public Option Pragmatists" and praises Bowers. His readers aren't happy. Lots of "I'll never vote again" stuff, utter disgust, along with the regular hacks trying to convince folks that all that piss is really rain.
Some might call anything on the blogs a tempest in a teacup. But then there is this underlying poll showing 81% of Republicans are either "definitely" or "probably" voting next year, while among Democrats 56% are either "definitely" voting or "probably" voting next year, while 40% are "not likely" to vote or will "definitely" not vote.
While the Palin legions grow and the cold shadow of Weimar creeps across the landscape, the progressive leadership is reacting to this with varying degrees of hysteria or pseudo-militancy. Congressional Democrats must do something to inspire the base, they cry. They must be bold. When in fact they are cowering in their hutches. Rallying cries go out from MoveOn and the like. Make phone calls for the public option. Send us money. Call your congressman. Send us more money. But not a whisper that if Congressman X doesn't come through, they will face retaliation.
In a snapshot, the regular Democratic Party leadership is in a deadly state of paralysis at best, the progressive leadership is calling on the ranks to keep doing more of the same only with greater vigor, and the ranks are demoralized and beginning to drop away in disgust.
I have no hope for the Democratic Party leadership actually leading anything. Many of them would just as well be rid of the party's base. The base did its job in 2008, but they only complicate things now with their unrealistic expectations and childish demands.
I will concede that progressive leaders such as Bowers are well-meaning. (Maybe I'm too easy, I had also conceded that Obama was well-meaning.) But they have cherished relationships on the fringe of the Democratic Party core: jobs, the tiniest bit of influence, access to congressional aides, the joy of getting onto the Rachel Maddow show, etc. However angry or militant they might sound at any given moment, they have no willingness to make a serious threat. No stick.
And the ranks? Some are perfectly willing to roll over, yes I believe in, yes I uphold, etc., the Democratic Party is my team just like the New York Knicks are my team and that emotional identification is the bottom line. Smart people can say incredibly stupid things in this mindset.
Yes, they'll target specific Democrats to punish them. This is consistent with a completely fragmented, individualistic methodology that is completely paralyzing. The Democratic Party is masterful at creating an endless series of either/or choices. Lousy public option or none. Stupak or lesser restrictions on abortion. A nice campaign speech or not. A campaign position or none. Democratic Party or Republican. Lesser or greater evil. If this fragmented framework is accepted, then there is no way out of the trap, the current version of the La Brea tar pits.
Can't say we will hurt you, the Democratic Party, if you cave on this principle or that.
But let's look at the Stupak amendment. Stupak didn't do this. It wasn't passed by this Democrat and this Republican and this one and that one and gee which ONES should we go after. The House bill containing Stupak was passed by the Democratic Party.
My concern is with those who can't keep beating their heads against a brick wall are dropping away in disgust, a disgust I share, by the way, and who would indeed be abandoning the field. My wife and I have filled out our passport applications. What's needed is a plan for the decent activists who've plugged away for years, who've haven't shared the joys of being a party insider. We can't just call for nose to the grindstone, stiff upper lip, take (another) one for the team. We need to give them something that they can do that is not contingent on the higher-ups leading it, funding it, legitimizing it.
We need to give them a stick.
Thus the Full Court Press.
The basic concept is simple and flexible. The Committee for a Full Court Press (FCP) (I just made up the name) would agree on the following principles [slightly modified from an 8-principle list]:
WPA-style jobs program
Defend the safety net (Social Security, etc.)
Medicare for all the uninsured
Repeal Hyde Amendment and its ilk
U.S. out of Afghanistan
The 4 points are offered as a suggestion, and would be decided upon by those initially forming the FCP based upon activist feedback. But once approved, they would ultimately not be negotiable at the local level.
The bottom line is to have at least one FCP candidate on the primary ballot in every district.
The FCP activist would pay the required filing fee or gather required signatures or combination thereof to get on the primary ballot. While any FCP candidate could run a full-fledged campaign with the intent to win the seat, a minimal candidate could:
- Ask the other candidates if they will actively support the FCP points and say so in writing.
- If they sign, the FCP candidate could simply endorse that candidate, or the best of those candidates (if such is the case) and campaign actively for their endorsee or not as the FCP candidate sees fit.
- If that candidate betrays the points, the FCP candidate would have the option of campaigning more aggressively.
If no other candidate supports the FCP points, the FCP candidate could minimally:
- Talk to the local press.
- Appear at candidate nights if any group sponsors them.
Nothing in the plan precludes running a full-blast campaign to win. It's just not contingent on that.
Tactically, that's it. That's the plan. This requires some money and some effort, and ballot requirements vary from state to state, but is within practical range. The main requirement after getting on the primary ballot is a willingness to make some phone calls and show up. If the FCP candidate wanted to do more and could do more, that would be excellent. But not required.
... which have come up as I've tried to clarify this plan.
Obviously there would have to be some kind of national structure, and some tasks such as fundraising and ballot access expertise require activity on a national level. Likewise, there would likely have to be state structure of some kind.
But I think it would be a serious mistake to go into detail, just as it would be a mistake to present the 8 principles as some kind of polished master list. Rather the structure should reflect those who respond to the plan. I envision slow but steady growth, with structure determined by participants, and changed by participants as it develops. There is no point in building paper empires with no one in them.
On the other hand, if you gave me $1 million, I could come up with an organizational structure in an hour, and if you gave me $2 million, I'd give you three structures, quite a bargain. But seriously, let's see who turns up first.
At this point, the FCP is myself and a handful of good people who have said they wanted to actively support this, and together we are fine-tuning the plan. The task is to gather support for the central concept. If a dozen people want to come aboard, that would take a certain level of organization, likewise 100 people would need a different one. As would 500. Hopefully we would need interim structures that would be quickly outgrown, to be determined by the participants at each step along the way.
Aren't you duplicating the work of other groups targeting wayward Dems?
Very good question. Answer: no!
Organizations like ActBlue are extremely important, and I hope the Full Court Press would dovetail with them. However, our approach is very different. First, it insists on adherence to a clear set of principles.
But aren't you imposing a litmus test?
Of course. About goddamn time, too. The Democratic Party as it now operates is an orgy of pragmatism. Judged in terms of pragmatism, it has failed utterly unless your pragmatic goal is to attract corporate contributions. Like it or not, litmus has been working for the Republicans in terms of moving public policy to the right, e.g., Stupak.
Wait, you were talking about ActBlue type groups!
As I was saying before I so rudely interrupted myself, the 8 principles, while hardly comprehensive, constitute a broad agenda. With single-issue groups, you can support abortion rights and bombing the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan and Gaza, all in one unholy stew, or vice versa. Not good enough
Additionally, other groups engage in a lot of bargaining. Full Court Press isn't a bargain. Don't support it, you get challenged. Period.
They are also focused on targeting, which is part of the "completely fragmented, individualistic methodology that is completely paralyzing," as noted above. It goes after individuals, who then plead their individual cases. Full Court Press goes after the entire Democratic Party for its misdeeds. It was the Democratic Party that passed the Stupak-laden House bill. Anthony Weiner may plead, "It wasn't me, it was that nasty Mr. Stupak and I had to go along!" Sorry, Anthony. Sorry, Nancy. You voted for it, you get challenged.
But what about actually winning seats?
That seems to be everyone's first thought. But it's a mistake. Going for a win without massive resources forces us to play their game by their rules. Full Court Press will drive them crazy because it breaks the rules. We are challenging the entire Democratic Party with 435 cuts.
To put it simply, if Anthony Weiner has to pay the price for what Stupak does, it gives him an incentive to try to do something about Stupak rather than simply trying to keep his own hands clean. We are angry, we are crazy, we're not gonna take it, won't get fooled again, no more promises in the dark, no more leading role in a cage.
Don't your 5 principles open the door to all sorts petty wrangling?
They do. Unfortunately, such is the human condition. But the Full Court Press is for people who actually want to do something. We have to trust that people who actually want to do something will actually do something.
So Anthony gets on our good side by signing the 8 principles. But he doesn't act in accordance with them. Full Court Press isn't magic. Not a blueprint for all situations. Evaluations have to be made. But he's young and hopes to have a future, so I'd guess that next election he's got a Full Court Press challenger.
Ballot Access, how hard is it?
It varies by state and my small random checking should not be considered definitive, but I came up with the following:
Massachusetts needs 2,000 signatures.
New Jersey 200.
California takes $1,367 and 3,000 signatures.
Texas requires $3,125 and 500 signatures.
Some states need only signatures, or a filing fee in lieu of signatures. 200 signatures could be gathered by one person in a hard weekend. 3,000 would require some kind of campaign team, volunteer or hired. (Hired teams have a tendency to sign up Disney characters, beware.) Here is where national expertise and fundraising comes in. It looks tough, but not insurmountable. As an aside, if you ask for a contribution when someone signs, you can raise about $1/signature fairly easily. Petitioning can be a money-maker, not a drain, if done properly.
How long will it take to get this off the ground?
While it might be possible to run some Full Court Press candidates in 2010 if we attract some eager leaders, the organization is frankly not yet born. We have to lay groundwork, including recruitment, fundraising and ballot access plans. By 2012, however, we could be able to field 435 candidates.
Will such low-key races be effective? Will anyone even notice?
Damn sure they'll notice. Why? We'll be like a gleaming silver needle headed towards an over-inflated balloon. They may look smug, but their underlying weakness is the huge disparity between their shenanigans in Congress and the opinions of the Democratic base, as well as the American people. Too many of them have gone unchallenged too long, and the thought of having to actually fight for their seats against anyone will send chills up their spines. 435 chills. 435 needles.
Where did this idea come from?
A few years ago, it was just a throw-away idea I tossed out from time to time and it met thundering silence. I don't consider it particularly brilliant, merely stating the obvious. Since then, I have grown increasingly disgusted with progressive leaders who are calling on politicians to do something, weary of progressive ranks calling on progressive leaders to do something, calling on other progressives to do ... wait, that was me. I had to take responsibility for making the Full Court Press a reality or I was no better than any of them. In that spirit, I say to angry progressives, the Full Court Press means you taking a lot of responsibility for the direction of this country. Getting on the ballot is serious work. You'll take flak from the smug and the comfortable and the bought. But at this point, it's clear that nobody else is going to do it for us.
And someday, as Bob Dylan put it:
Oh the foes will rise
With the sleep still in their eyes
And they'll jerk from their beds and think they're dreamin'.
But they'll pinch themselves and squeal
And they'll know that it's for real,
The hour that the ship comes in.
And they'll raise their hands,
Sayin' we'll meet all your demands,
But we'll shout from the bow your days are numbered.
And like Pharaoh's tribe,
They'll be drownded in the tide,
And like Goliath, they'll be conquered.
01/08/10 Toward a method of Activism
"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings." -- Shakespeare
The overall state of dialogue on the left is incredibly banal. It is narrow. It is ahistorical.
The spectrum of debate became ever more constrained. With Democrats in power, which reforms were “realistic”? With Democrats out of power, how to get the Democrats back in power? Would asking for too much mobilize the base, or would it ensure their defeat? Eternally unresolved as the frogs boiled.
For the wild-eyed radicals who also spring up eternal, the debate centered on the preferred mode of abstention. Third party? Not voting at all? Voting while holding one’s nose? Didn’t matter.
The left remains awe-struck by the imperial facade.
It is time to take a long, hard look at HOW we think. We are responding to events as kabuki players, but HOW are we responding? Demonstrations? A dead ritual of bus-ride logistics. Calling our congresspersons? Their accountants have calculated our outrage and declared it an acceptable cost of doing business. And business is indeed what they are doing.
But in a moribund political system, all…MINDLESS ACTIVISM (yeah, that’s harsh!) gets plugged into keeping that moribund system on life support and nothing more. We need new directions. More of the same won’t suffice. Organization, yes, but different organization. The demonstrations that preceded Bush’s invasion of Iraq were massive and fast. Unprecedented. The lack of impact, the lack of follow-up, make them perhaps the most pathetic demonstrations ever held. Why? There was no shared vision of a future society, there was no shared sense of world development, there was no strategy they could be part of. There was nothing to carry them past the moment.
That such massive numbers in the street could be gone like the snows of yesteryear shows that how we think, how we understand, is not just an abstract matter. It demands that we take a long, hard look at how we once THOUGHT. So return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear ...
when the Left was a real force
From the Port Huron Statement, formulated by SDS in 1962:
A first task of any social movement is to convince people that the search for orienting theories and the creation of human values is complex but worthwhile. We are aware that to avoid platitudes we must analyze the concrete conditions of social order. But to direct such an analysis we must use the guideposts of basic principles. Our own social values involve conceptions of human beings, human relationships, and social systems.
World War II was fresh in our consciousness. We had saved the world from Hitler, had liberated the concentration camps, had gotten the sneaky French and the stuffy British to shed their empires. JFK was dead, but Camelot lived, “what you can do for your country” was embodied in programs like the Peace Corps, young Americans dedicated years of their lives to help third world villagers dig wells and learn to read. The First Wave.
The civil rights movement evoked the best and worst of America, the horrors of Jim Crow, the Black resistance coming out of the Black churches. the emergence of Black Power a la Malcolm X in the north. And the young whites getting on buses to head south where they would fight and sometimes die alongside their Black brothers and sisters. The Second Wave.
Then students at the northern colleges and universities moved, not only against general imperfections of society, but against their own oppression, a very different consciousness than crusading for the rights of others. Basic rights of free speech repressed. The moral and intellectual deadness of academia. Sexual repression. In loco parentis (university as parent). Student power, we called it. The Cold War was an abomination, not just an aberration, maybe just maybe endemic to the system. The civil rights movement acted as the driving engine. It showed the possibilities of protest, non-violent tactics. It inspired. It fed veteran activists back into the universities, mixing in with student anger, youthful arrogance, youthful ideals. The Third Wave.
…these matters such as the Vietnam War, Black Panthers, rioting, etc. of the late 1960s gripped the activists, and the activists were in motion, and the activists set the tone. Not that we were better people. Social motion allowed us to try different tactics and see what worked. Decisions were thrust upon us whether we wanted them or not.
We HAD to address:
What kind of society should America be?
back to the farm?
Stupid arguments. Loud arguments. Smart arguments. Old wheels dragged out and re-invented, new wheels imagined.
Tactics had to be figured out,
because they were both possible and necessary:
There was a lot of wrangling over the relationship between tactics and strategy. And what’s a tactic and what’s a strategy?
where was capitalism headed
was imperialism a necessary feature of capitalism
could human nature be transformed
was the system too strong
was the economy on a course of terminal collapse or eternal growth?
What were the key sectors (vanguard to some)
whose mobilization would ensure change:
Blacks and Latinos and 3rd world revolutionaries
white collar workers (new working class)
What were the key issues:
war in Vietnam
3rd world oppression?
Marxism became popular, both for its merits and its shortcomings, including its touching faith in revolutionary inevitability:
communal (utopian) socialism
3rd world revolutionaries allied with the Soviet Union
3rd world revolutionaries allied with China?
And was the Communist Party USA an ally or an overt enemy?
Demands had to be formulated. You couldn’t just take over the Administration Building for the hell of it (well, you could, but ...):
end the war and all oppression
transitional programs (reformist demands you know can’t be met)?
The understanding of transitional demands was very important. Then the organizational question:
constituency (race, sex, orientation)
loose multi-issue (early SDS)
independent electoral parties
faction within Democratic Party
no organization (spontaneous uprising)?
These matters were passionately discussed in every possible combination. The joint was jumping. It wasn’t just the ideas that were thrown into the hopper, we ourselves were in the hopper, whether or not by choice. The most sophisticated were the Marxists, who proposed a central organization that could coordinate different social sectors and issues, changing them as events developed, until the revolution. Unfortunately, revolution was not in the cards.
Perhaps the wisest were the cultural revolutionaries.
Perhaps the best leaders were the women.
Fundamental errors obscured all our understanding. Extreme militancy does not equal revolution. Going to the barricades to win reforms is, well, reformist. It may improve the social order, but it does not transform it. . Some of us learned it too late in the game. We came to understand our fundamental weakness -- a primarily student-based movement can light a spark, but cannot by itself transform society. We knew it, wrestled hard with it, couldn’t beat it.
Still, let me extract an arbitrary checklist here for analyzing tactics and causes.
- What kind of society should America be, and where was it heading?
- What kind of organization do we need to get there (short term or long term)?
- What would be the key sectors of society to organize? (not all sectors are equal)
- What would be the key issues?
- What would be key demands (reformist, revolutionary, transitional)?
- What tactics should we use?
- What would the developmental process look like?
Then let me try to apply some of this to issues people are raising today. This is an exercise in method. If I fail to do justice to anyone’s favorite, please improve on it.
- This would depend on the purpose of the 3rd party: socialism? reform the Democratic Party? an improved welfare state? Depends on the prospects for democracy itself.
- That would depend on purpose. Some kind of organizing committee, obviously. Would the purpose be to form a brand new party? Take over the Green Party? Form a coalition of 3rd parties? The constitution of this committee would also depend on the following questions.
- If the goals were taking over the Greens or forming a grand coalition, the key sector would be articulate intellectuals who would be adept at the kind of maneuvering to carry it off. If the goal were a new, clean party, then the most unrepresented sector is the poor. The key leadership would have to be nuts-and-bolts activists, as the poor do not generate these spontaneously. There would be an extended period while poor cadre were developed and moved into leadership positions.
- Jobs. Social safety net. Healthcare.
- Strong and uncompromising demands, related to 4 above.
- Formation of community base organizations that would provide the base for militant, angry electoral campaigns, coordinated with militant direct actions.
- An alternative to much of the above would be to create a 3rd party by creating a major breakaway from the Democratic Party. That opens up a vast array of issues concerning how to work within the Democratic Party.
work within the Democratic Party
- Can fork into liberal social democracy or socialism. Can fork into taking over or influencing the Democratic Party, or splitting the party. Depends on the prospects for democracy itself.
- Form the Independent Progressive Caucus within the Democratic Party.
- Angry Democrats, mostly middle class.
- Democratic Party has sold out on x, y and z.
- Don’t sell out on x, y and z.
- Run in primaries, join or create local Democratic clubs. Fight for delegates at party gatherings, run in races where the DP has small presence.
- Small or large inroads, depending on ability to build an independent base, at a point of social crisis, making a move to split, starting with a militant primary, when the Democratic Party is clearly against its base AND when the independent forces are strong enough to sustain a 3rd party, including at a minimum gaining ballot status in 50 states in no longer than 4 years. This approach will be particularly prone to factional splits.
- Liberal social democracy or socialism or rural communes existing alongside urban society.
- Form the United Front Committee to Keep In the Vote.
- The angry middle class, who feel they are caught between forces out of their control.
- Corruption of the electoral process. Corruption of the political parties.
- Don’t vote.
- A wide publicity campaign. Non-voting has to be voluntary, anything looking like intimidating or overtly hindering voters would provoke righteous backlash.
- This is not a viable plan as stand-alone. There remains the question of what should be done instead of voting. Alignment with other organizations is the only way this can ultimately be meaningful. UNLESS the not voting is intended to show dissatisfaction with particular policies in a particular election, e.g., revenge against the Democrats for the healthcare debacle.
- A general strike is a drastic action, calling for millions to take significant risk, but wielding great power if carried out successfully. Thus some kind of socialism or social democracy would be appropriate.
- Since a general strike is illegal, it would require some tight-knit body that can maintain a high level of security. It would require at least some mass organizations to mobilize a critical mass. Whether that would include existing organizations such as key unions (communications, transit, airlines) or new revolutionary organizations would in part depend on point 3.
- If the threatened middle class was key, they could perhaps be mobilized against Wall Street, foreclosures and taxes through existing vehicles. If the poor were the key sector, new organizations would have to be built representing the poor.
- If the middle class, as noted above, Wall Street, foreclosures and taxes. If the poor, jobs and safety net for all.
- If the poor, a job, healthcare, food as basic human rights. No compromise.
- To enforce 5 above, militant tactics. An extended period of demonstrations and sit-downs to build for the big day. Then a strike integrated with seizure of key transportation and communication centers, followed by a mass effort to ensure delivery of food, water and electricity.
- No single sector or tactic or demand could pull this off. If would require the highest level of organizational coordination among many sectors, including the poor, the middle class, unions, and high-level professional to lead to anything but destructive societal collapse.
General strike is no toy. It will leave a bodycount on BOTH sides.
End the atrocities committed by the U.S. in the Middle East
- America should be a humane society. This direction has heavy implications for what the potential impact would be on the U.S. economy if it withdrew from the Middle East and lost what control it has over the oil fields. It would also have inter-related implications for the economy and the so-called Defense budget. Could put socialism on the table.
- There are existing organizations doing good work on this. But they work in isolation, despite the fact that the Democratic base is not happy about our various wars. It would be desirable to create an electoral vehicle that could bring these issues into the electoral mainstream.
- College youth, union members, the poor.
- Our wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, policy towards Israel.
- Stop killing women and children to ensure corporate profit! U.S. troops out!
- Dramatic direct actions such as the Gaza March, tying them to the complicity in atrocities by the Democratic Party.
- As the bodycount rises in Afghanistan, the issue is getting more coverage, and people are becoming more outraged at our GOVERNMENT, rather than just at Bush, there will be an increase in militancy. Tactical smarts will be key, as this is potentially explosive. I’ve used some of the above examples for illustrative purposes. This one I feel very, very passionate about.
Ironically, this one is both marginal and central simultaneously.
and then ...
The above examples are crude. I’ve not done full justice to any of them, and I hope that proponents of each might take the exercise further. I don’t especially want to quarrel over details.
The concept of transitional demands deserves much more discussion.
One phenomenon I’ve seen is that someone says let’s do this, and people say yeah, right on, and someone else says let’s do that, and people say that’s great, go for it, and another person says we need to support this, and on and on. And it doesn’t go any further. Based on comments and recommends, you even have some of the same people supporting mutually exclusive approaches. No, I don’t take this as a sign of madness or senility. Rather, I take it as a healthy thirst for action. If each suggestion and so many more are put through this analytical wringer, I think people might start to see ways issues can be combined, common organizations can push related issues, directions clarified, approaches developed that embrace the entire American people. We might conceive of how events could transform over time. It could get us out of the Frozen Storm (Muller). We weren’t better people then. Or to turn that around, we’re just as good a people now as we were then!
Oh yeah, the Full Court Press. It puts organization and tactics up front. I’ve elaborated elsewhere. It is only a tactic, one I believe in, but no substitute for a strategy. Throw it in the hopper if you wish.
But here’s my two cents about what I think is needed: an organization with a clear vision for the future, an appraisal of coming social dynamics, an organization that has a mass membership or affiliation with mass membership subsidiaries, that can support a broad range of issues and a broad range of tactics, appropriately as the movement is created and develops.
I take it seriously. I take it seriously enough that I will avoid further speculation because I do not believe that the objective conditions even exist for a such a discussion. But for extra credit, as it pertains to all of the above if you’ve tried to apply the above exercises yourselves, how do we translate our electronic presence into material force?
Or to quote Chairman Archimedes: “Give me a place to stand and I can move the world!”
03/20/10 Fascism: there is a point of no return
The government is out of control. Democracy is being rendered meaningless. A handful of fat cats on Wall Street are bringing on economic catastrophe. Clear explanations are defied. Meanings are stood on their head. Things fall apart. Yes, the movement to fascism must be stopped. Note that I say movement, not a static state of affairs.
To put it very crudely, there are capitalists and workers. For capitalists to profit they have to underpay their workers (extraction of surplus value in commie lingo). But in underpaying their workers, they end up with a realization crisis, i.e., they realize there is not enough money out there to buy their products. This produces a series of ever-deepening economic crises.
This is a crisis we are in. No one pretends that manufacturing jobs are coming back. Outsourcing is permanent. When you call the support line, the Indian-accented voice on the other end is more confident, more competent. No longer a joke. Jobs aren't coming back. Jobs people do have are lower-end. You need a B.A. to even apply for work as a receptionist. Poverty is spreading. The safety net is collapsing. Tent cities are becoming a normal part of the landscape, as are police raids to tear them down. The only way there will be any recovery at all is if recovery itself is redefined to mean a rising stock market amid mass hunger, homelessness and despair. The Fed keeps pumping out devalued cash, the international finance folks hold each other's hands over the abyss. This is all very bad, but this is not fascism.
Teabaggers march confident through the halls of Congress. Elected officials call for the overthrow of their own government. Obama reaffirms preventive detention and the worst tyrannies of the Bush regime. Be named an enemy combatant and disappear forever. This is also very bad, but this is not fascism.
We wage open war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and openly wage covert war in Pakistan. We threaten war with Iran, and some threaten war with Islam itself. This too is bad, but it is not fascism.
Abortion, while sort of legal, is inaccessible to millions of American women. Healthcare is a disaster that the Democratic healthcare bill will not salvage. Rape and domestic violence are on the rise. The skill level of the American workforce is deteriorating. The social fabric is unraveling. We have long surpassed the world of 1984 and Network, as Escape from New York looms on the still-distant horizon. This is bad, but it is not fascism.
Fascism is not a state of affairs. It doesn't reduce to a checklist extrapolated from the characteristics of Nazi Germany. It is a process, it is a movement.
Obama the tactic of choice
Certainly a fascist movement is afoot. Teabaggers prowling Congress, bussed from confrontation to confrontation with corporate dollars and Fox News their wholly-owned subsidiary (or vice versa). Minutemen "defend" our southern borders, national convention cities turned into police states (they're practicing up). Yet our rulers have not decided to pull the fascist trigger. Obama -- funded by Wall Street and big Pharma -- is their agent of choice. A Republican carrying out current policies would engender resistance, if only out of Democratic Party craven self-interest. As mentioned before, capitalism operates best under democracy.
Repression and brute force are expensive and clumsy. Better to have the consent of the governed. Thus domestically, Obama's job is to co-opt progressives into supporting his policies, or at least disarm them. So far so good. Internationally, a go-it-alone approach to the economic collapse would bring on speedy catastrophe. Maintaining the current illusion of a functioning international economic system requires a degree of cooperation and simple tact that a Republican regime would be incapable of, and which the teabaggers -- with their revival of American Exceptionalism -- explicitly reject.
Unfortunately, the current equilibrium cannot be maintained indefinitely.
Recall that Rosa Luxemburg put forward two ways that capitalism could postpone terminal collapse. First was by devouring pre-capitalist modes of production. That process has by-and-large run its course. Large swaths of the earth are now reduced to utter destitution, e.g., Africa. The rest have now become industrial powers of varying strength, with emerging powerhouses India and China leaping forward as they absorb the remnants of their peasant economies. China, India, Russia and Brazil now constitute a viable power bloc resistant to U.S. capital penetration. While weaker than the U.S., especially militarily, they grow with a solid manufacturing base, while U.S. industry rots behind its fortress walls.
It now lives based on the second factor -- capitalist subjectivity. The ruling class either believes or hopes it can maintain itself by continuing to pile paper wealth upon paper wealth through gimmicks like derivatives, CDO's, swaps, and outright bailouts, while imposing austerity on everyone else. It may be a bad plan, but it's a plan nonetheless. It's not a plan that can work indefinitely.
For unfortunately, the world is running out of oil
There is no way to predict when -- or even whether -- the ruling class will decide that democracy no longer serves its interests. We can only look at the forces in play and consider possibilities.
We like to think that our rulers are crazy, and in fact they are. But there is usually some underlying logic behind their policies. Take our wars in the Middle East. We are setting the Muslim world (to say nothing about the rest of it) against us. We are bankrupting ourselves. The teabaggers are quite certifiable, though not as much as the politicians nurturing them.
But one underlying factor is what is known as Peak Oil. The supply is running out. Tomorrow, no, next year might be the peak, or 5 years if we keep digging hard enough, or longer, who knows? But it is running out. And the China/Russia/India/Brazil bloc is making deals to get an increasing cut of what's left. If the U.S. tactic of choice is confrontation, then confrontation it will be. In that case, however stupid our current wars may seem, it might be downright handy to have our armed forces hanging around the neighborhood ready to grab the oil fields. Of course, that would mean short-term damage to world oil supplies. In fact, the trigger for such a move (whatever anti-Muslim pretext is cooked up) would probably emerge from some kind of crisis, some major shocks to the economy.
This would have additional aftershocks to the U.S. economy, and not good ones. Of course, the American people might want to resolve it through heavy taxation on rich corporations. Or they might be crushed politically as they have been under ObamaCare. Yes, the teabaggers are as crazy as waltzing mice, but with the American economy -- no picture of health -- taking more economic hits, it might be convenient for the ruling class to have fascist mobs ready to crush any resistance in the name of God and the American way.
Following this track along generally pessimistic lines, this is actually the OPTIMISTIC scenario.
Consider what might be unleashed should there be a major terrorist attack in the U.S., say a major bridge blown up, a chemical plant exploded, assassinations (gee, that couldn't happen here). Then it all goes out the window. We saw how alleged progressives caved in to Bush after 911. That would be Davy Crockett at the Alamo compared to what would be unleashed now (sorry to lose you, Fess Parker).
Not saying this will happen. But you can't say it's not a distinct possibility.
Point of no return
Either of the two scenarios could lead to a point of no return. Assuming that the China/Russia/India/Brazil bloc (Ed’s note: increasing influence now abbreviated as B.R.I.C.) could fend off nuclear America gone berserk (not a sure thing), what would it mean if the teabaggers were in control and Michelle Bachmann was president? Palin as Minister of Defense? The U.S. has a hopelessly tattered industrial base even now. Oh, I leave it to your imaginations.
Last week, in a comment, I was asked in good faith, "[W]hat is your game plan? How would something like the [Full Court Press] morph into that which could frustrate the social forces leading to fascism?"
How the hell should I know? The Full Court Press is envisioned as one very small part of a movement that I hope emerges. If you ask a general what her plan is for defeating the army on the opposing ridge, and she didn't know what army she had -- how many tanks, 100 troops, a division, trained or untrained -- the question would be unanswerable. The question above is even more difficult. And it's a much tougher question than it was in the 1930's.
My favorite scene of the first Superman movie was where Lois Lane falls off a wrecked helicopter, and Superman swoops down and catches her. "I've got you!" he exclaims. "But who's got you?" she answers. In the 1930's, there were anchors. The Soviet Union, whatever its ills, was a bulwark against German fascism. The Soviet Union was an anchor for communist parties throughout the world, including the U.S. The CPUSA, whatever its ills, was an anchor for the trade movement. There was an organized force that other progressives could cluster around, even as some of those forces vocally despised the CPUSA and the Soviet Union.
Additionally, when Germany launched its war of eastern conquest, there was democratic America -- even more powerful.
But if fascism descends today, there are no anchors. The U.S. would be cast as villain, and the Soviet Union is no more. There is now just an unruly mob. Again off to the movies, this time the Tin Star. At the end, Sheriff Tony Perkins (Henry Fonda behind him) stands down a drunken lynch mob, then guns down its leader, and western democracy is preserved (it was a western). Personally, I would like to identify with Tony Perkins, but I fear that we progressives more closely resemble the drunken mob. The mob had no cohesion, to every member it was him staring down the barrels of Tony Perkins' shotgun. And on that basis, each one backed off and went back to the saloon, leaving the villainous (in this case) leader dead in the dust.
Too historical for you? Then take the healthcare fiasco (please). Robust public option, rah, rah, rah. Wiener caves. Grijalva caves. Sanders caves. Kucinich caves. No one can trust anyone, each one backs down. WE can't trust any of them. Hope of stopping it rests with the vile Stupak, for Chrissake. Whether it passes or not, they'll head back to the saloon muttering, "We'll improve it, yeah, that's it, we'll make it better next month. Or next year. Whenever." And they and we all know it's a lie.
Patriot Act? That didn't even get a squeak. Not from progressive politicians. Barely from us. And that's heavy shit.
There is no WE! Some people know me as a royal pain in the ass. Pushy. People write heroic stuff about we must do this, and we should call for that, and we must expose whatever. And I simply ask, "who is the we?" and "through what organization?" And ... nothing. The question is apparently unworthy of answer.
Perhaps there is an assumption that we is understood as all of us as we now are, and that if we keep exposing the atrocity of the hour (which we should certainly keep doing) and roaring our indignation (indignation is good), then somehow WE will magically coalesce into a coherent force? Or the masses will be sufficiently educated by our plaints so that THEY will magically coalesce into a coherent force? Or that there ARE good organizations who will be bulwarks against fascism, even if their activity isn't manifest at this moment?
Yes! There ARE good organizations out there who could be bulwarks against fascism. But then it would seem the task is to specifically identify them, debate whether they truly fill the bill, and discuss HOW to unite them into a cohesive force.
And better yet, how they, as a cohesive force, will draw in the many being destroyed at this very moment and make them part of that cohesive force. The poor. Blacks and Latinos and Arab-Americans. Those marginal to current-day progressivism. I can't do it. I can call for worker-peasant-soldier self-defense committees against fascism, but it would be bullshit. Nor does this force have to have the label "anti-fascist." The unions in the 1930's weren't set up as anti-fascist armies. They were set up as unions. They were a force against fascism because it was in their interest, and because they were independently organized.
Likewise, I'm not calling for explicitly anti-fascist organizations. All I'm calling for is independent organizations. Whether working within the Democratic Party or 3rd party, or non-electoral, the key is being independent. The healthcare issue has turned out so badly, and the jobs issue is going to turn out so badly, because there is no independence, progressives are all hooked to the conveyor belt, the key issue, it seems, is whether passing the healthcare bill will be good for the Democratic Party or this or that politician's career, and its effect on real people is only a bloody shirt they drag out for the cameras.
But there is a point of no return. Barbarism is a possibility. If you don't believe it, look out your window. Yet, remember what I said about Germany. It had a choice of whether to choose fascism or not. So while I project the very real possibilities of fascism, I by no means consider it inevitable. This country also faces choices. In our case, it looks something like whether the United States desperately tries to maintain its position by brute force, or whether it is willing to become an economic partner -- if not the ruling partner -- in a world economy increasingly led by the China/Russia/India/Brazil bloc. That is also a real possibility, though some will resist it to the death.
I refer at times to the ruling class, but one thing to note is that the ruling class is no longer American. Wherever they were born, they have long become detached from U.S. soil. They operate among the countries of the entire world, see Empire by Hardt and Negri. From their perspective, capitalism does not rise or fall according to the well-being of the United States specifically. These are among the people who have done the NAFTA deals and outsourced my job to the Philippines. They have no inherent interest in the U.S. going fascist. They would prefer, I guess, it go down with a whimper, keep selling everyone else lots of wheat and beef at cheap prices.
We, the people
You ask what I recommend? Engage the "we" question, as squishy and uncomfortable as that may be. Who are "we" and how do we both become and create a larger organized force? Traditional trade unionism is dead. What is an alternative? What is the critical mass with which the blogosphere becomes a power projector rather than an angry mob? I can make up stuff, but if no one follows it, so what?
There is a point of no return.
04/10/10 Iron Fist Democrats
"They're trying to kill me," Yossarian told him calmly.
"No one's trying to kill you," Clevinger cried.
"Then why are they shooting at me? Yossarian asked.
"They're shooting at everyone," Clevinger answered. "They're trying to kill everyone."
"And what difference does that make?"
It's not a matter of arguments (4.00 / 19)
It's a matter of power. If I stand before you and say the moon is made of green cheese, you would likely dismiss that argument. If I stand before you -- while whacking a lead pipe into my hand -- you might well reconsider. Our arguments are pretty good. What's lacking is the power to enforce them.
Down the thread, I surmised that Kucinich had finally caved on the healthcare bill not because of Obama's threats against him personally, but rather that Obama had threatened his constituents, and that cuts in funding for services (a standard threat in congressional politics) could lead to people already living on the edge dying.
Bang! I was banned for "bad faith." I quickly used my wife Rose's log-in to announce that I had been banned (how else to let people know?) and Kerpow! Within minutes she was banned. My initial comment got 19 recommends, many, I suppose, in protest.
Another hard day's work. (Ed’s note: Jeff here gives several more examples of censorship and force used by democrats which we are all too familiar with. The pattern is the same whether by democrats or the Green Party. Jeff expresses an opinion, is censored and kicked out, then his wife Rose repeats his opinion and is within24 to 48 hours censored and kicked out herself.)
But what emerges here is the iron fist of the Democratic Party. Whether or not any of this cast of characters (FDL, Docudharma, Bowers, Sloan and his provocateur) had any contact with any other is irrelevant. Can't prove anything. Don't care. Hit me like a well-oiled machine. And a well-oiled machine operates automatically, systematically.
Still, the iron fist is not the Democratic Party tactic of choice. More powerful than the fist is the projection of triumphalism that flooded the media after the healthcare bill passed. Just as the DP panic after the Massachusetts defeat was largely media hysteria, the DP euphoria now is similarly fake. Fake, but it works. Democratic Party operative Bowers trumpets how Obama has out-smarted and out-persuaded the left, and the left had better improve (soften) its message if it wants to have hope, negating the fact that it wasn't Obama's smooth talk as much as his outright power that carried the day. And out of the other side of his mouth Bowers blares:
By at least an order of magnitude, [Obama] has more supporters, a bigger email list, more volunteers, and more donors. As just an example, in November of 2008 he had eight million more emails than even the ultimate online behemoth, MoveOn.org. Because of this, he has more support among the membership of many progressive organizations than even the leaders of these organizations.
At times it operates as a brute unthinking machine. At other times it plans and conspires and cynically manipulates through actual individuals and organizations. It works best when invisible as the air we breathe, but the iron fist is always there.
Then there is the question of how WE as individuals function as Democrats as well, to what extent we even come to terms with that.
And just what is the significance of how they went after me?
As Yossarian put it, "What difference does that make?"
04/17/10 – Boots Outside the box
…First, let me set out a proposed endpoint …You need a large but manageable organization…
I repeat two essential conditions for this organization. It uses the blogosphere, but exists independently of it. Likewise, it uses the Democratic Party (or any other electoral party) but exists independently of it.
…I have no interest in having boots on the ground in order to support the same old shit that's gotten us into the disastrous mess we're now in.
I consider the progressive blogosphere a serious failure, at least in terms of the hopes of many. While one may point out this or that accomplishment, I point out the failure to win any kind of public option in the healthcare bill, the failure to make abortion rights a serious issue in that fight, the renewal of the Patriot Act with hardly a peep, and letting Obama massively escalate the war in Afghanistan.
Thus the gap between what is and what is needed is huge. If I thought there existed even a kernel of what is needed, I would clutch at it. But I don't see it.
So how was it done before the blogosphere?
In 1900 (to pick an arbitrary date), there were no blogs, not even in France. Two elements are worth pointing out. First, there were unions or workers wanting unions or workers engaged in shop floor disputes. And however weak they were in the beginning, there was the proximity of the point of production. The factory, the railroad tracks, the fields. Second, there were students, with the proximity of the university. They formed study groups, small to be sure, but gathering in the same room. The union would develop a plan of action for organizing. The students would come to agreement on how to change the world, and if they couldn't, then they would argue and resolve themselves into multiple groups. But there were groups -- of students, of workers -- with some physical proximity and some ideological cohesion. Groups formed larger groups, workers committees formed organizing committee and later unions.
They gravitated towards each other, the students (or lawyers) or other professionals would have theories of justice and social change, the workers would have their grievances and their job actions. Even when the numbers involved were terribly small, there was a synthesis. The students and intellectuals did have some kind of vision. The workers had some muscle. The students could write leaflets and get them printed. The workers could dodge the foremen and organize their shops. The workers were the driving force.
…In the 60's in the U.S., the proximity evolved among two forces. Students were packed into mega-universities with 40,000+ students. Traditional methodology didn't exactly apply, as the students in large numbers were being themselves proletarianized. The driving force was the civil rights movement, and later the northern urban Black Power movement. Again, it was a version of the petit-bourgeois/working class alliance. The proximity units were the university and the city or ghetto. Student radicals worked hard to expand their base outside the universities…
Their proximity is now the proximity of the graveyard.
What do we have left? The unions are completely dead in terms of driving social change. They are a moderately liberal lynchpin of the Democratic Party. There is action on the campuses, against cutbacks, boycotting Israel, etc. But they are disconnected through no fault of their own from the national political scene, unlike the anti-war students of the 60's. (Why is a whole different subject, I'll leave this as an assertion for now.) What remains of the Civil Rights movement is long absorbed into Democratic Party politics. The Congressional Black Caucus was not a leading progressive force in the recent healthcare debacle, for instance. The radical constituencies of the 60's and early 70's relate less to each other than to the mediating Democratic Party.
There is a massive progressive blogosphere, on the other hand, as mentioned above, divided into many blogs, each of them with strikingly similar political divisions within them. I would not call it dead. I would call it impotent when measured in terms of its numbers. The lack of proximity is a serious problem. How do we call a Docudharma demonstration, for instance, even a small rally at some congressman's office? When we don't even know where each other is from, when this or that commenter may live across the street or across the nation? Additionally, apart from the basic practical difficulties, I think there is something paralyzing to our spirits from this lack of physical presence.
One obvious question, or so it seems to me, is why can't all the independents, all the radicals, all those fed up with Democratic Party sellouts, come together? A new, radical mega-blog. A new organization of any kind. Don't the times scream out for something like this?
I don't think it can happen
…It is not the failing of any individual, and in better times it wouldn't be considered a failing at all. It is problematic because in this country at this moment, there is no driving engine of social change. No mass student movement. No strike wave. Demonstrations are rendered an empty ritual. Many things are simmering -- about the war(s), gay marriage, Wall Street -- but none reaches the level of a driving engine. None captures the national mood, none creates the spirit that can pull all other forces in their wake. If there were a driving engine, the blogosphere could add to it incredible force, near-instant communications, national sense of unity. The size and speed of the 2003 demonstrations would be equaled and eclipsed. The organizational endpoint I outlined earlier could be achieved.
In the absence of such, the blogosphere cannot transform itself into boots on the ground. It can only be transformed by something more powerful, something outside itself. Something new.
On the ground, people are being destroyed
I wish I could end this essay with clear conclusions and some bold call to action. All I can do is some general pointing. Last year, I said it was the year of the Titanic sinking, and that this year would be the year the Titanic went under and people were in the freezing water. That gloomy prediction is unfortunately coming true. (Next year, the bodies start washing up.) My experience with the Union of the Unemployed Thinktank shows me the potential. In about a two weeks, I recruited 200 members to a Facebook group from the International Association of Machinists Union of the Unemployed, around the issue of the government starting a program of WPA-style jobs. The IAM's Union membership at the same time zoomed from 500 to 1,500 members in a few weeks -- mainly from one small article in the AlterNet online site.
The IAM union is now being left to die by the IAM, membership stalled around 1,800. The simple publicity work that could lead to it having hundreds of thousands of members within months is not being done. Unemployed people are more radical than your average union member, and this would create problems with the IAM's cozy relationship with the Democratic Party (there is a long of history of this in American labor). They can be moved. They are smart. I particularly love the picture of a sad and bedraggled homeless man crouched in front of his tent, pounding away on his laptop. They are dangerous. In a good way.
The homeless are increasingly starting to cluster in small tent cities, and the police are breaking them up.
The foreclosed are looking around in bewilderment. Me, a poor person? But I was living the American dream.
Families are living on food stamps AS INCOME! Hospitals and schools are closing, and every social service is being cut, and city workers are now on the streets, and subway fares are shooting up and bus lines are being eliminated, and healthcare is falling apart, and women and children are being beaten and killed in their own homes by their desperate and ashamed men, and homeless shelters in New York are going to start charging rent, and abortion is getting ever harder to get while raising children is getting harder to do, and crime rates are going up, and hate crimes are going up, and the workplace is being transformed into a hellhole because employers can sexually and racially harass, and Latinos are being stopped in the street Gestapo style and asked for their papers, and people are walking into places with loaded guns and opening fire, and the poor are dying, and ... And Obama and the goddamn Democrats are letting it all happen while they clutch their useless congressional majorities.
(I'm very far from being okay)
The poor and those being destroyed can't stop it. The anger is there, yes. But the anger is overshadowed by fear. Reasonable fear. Fear of near-total vulnerability. Little social leverage (can't go on strike, can they?). The fear that comes from being alone. Politically abandoned. They can't do it alone.
Yet if the poor were organized, if they weren't alone, the anger could overpower the fear. You would have that driving social engine that could drive the entire progressive movement. You're poor? Close the Pentagon. You're poor? Take Wall Street's trillions. On and on, we all know the litany. We don't have the engine.
One idea kept floating through my head when Cindy Sheehan and Peace of the Action were setting up a tent city in March in Washington, DC as the base for weeks of protests. Suppose the unemployed and homeless showed up at the tent city and, in exchange for shelter, joined the protests? Sheehan later even said that had been their idea as well.
It didn't happen. The expected mass of protestors didn't show up in significant numbers. They'll try again this summer.
But I went to the Peace of the Action website, saw that their demands were getting troops out of the Middle East, reparations and benefits for veterans. Nothing about jobs and the poor. Checked out their housing stuff and saw it was adequate for only a few hundred people at most, read that the police had not allowed people to actually camp in the tent city. Having the unemployed descend on them would have created all sorts of legal and logistical difficulties.
Okay, they tried. I respect them for that. The resources weren't there, the base of support that loved Cindy Sheehan back in the day had moved on to more important things like Obama's disastrous healthcare bill.
But the concept still has power. Of the millions that a group like MoveOn raises, what would it take to make something like this work? Or the unions? Forget it. The important thing is to defeat Blanche Lincoln (who indeed deserves it). But dumping Lincoln solves little. Building an alliance between the blogosphere and the poor would transform everything.
Here's where I -- who hates bold proclamations and dramatic calls to action -- wish I could make a bold proclamation and dramatic call to action. Sorry, can't do it. All I can do is suggest and point.
Organizing and mobilizing the poor isn't just another good issue, along with all the other good issues. I've been known to be rude. So let me be rude here. Mobilizing the poor is MORE IMPORTANT than other issues. Not all other issues, to be sure. But more important than filling MoveOn's coffers. More important than re-electing our Democratic incumbents. More important than funding thousands and thousands of letters to our congresspeople and online petitions that end up in online trashcans…
We have to do this. And I'm thrown up against my own damn question, who is the we? I don't know. Blogosphere can't do it. I can't do this. I can't make it happen. You, as an individual, can't make it happen. I suspect it has to be done, in some way, outside the blogosphere, independent of it.
But it has to be done.
06/01/10 Eyeless in Gaza: they want to keep us that way
My wife and I were going to bed that night, when one last check on the news reported the Freedom Flotilla massacre. Suddenly, we were wide awake, in shock and horror. Transfixed. We talked, noting that Huffington had a long piece, then a few minutes later only a snippet from the AP. We despaired that this was going to get covered up by the media, blacked out, with only the Israeli military's accounts of their victimization at the hands of terrorists: "Every [activist] that approached us wanted to kill us ... I had to fight against quite a few terrorists who were armed with knives and batons," says a wounded captain in Haaretz.
I finally went to bed, but my wife spent the rest of the night weeping.
(Ed’s Note: Alas, nothing has changed in either Israel or the United States and the mainstream press seems to have hardened against Gaza. The truth is there, but you have to search for it and it doesn’t seem to matter. See Continuous Wars – http://www.newprogs.org/wars_under_the_democratic_republican_uniparty Jeff and I both write from an intellectual framework, but it is important to use your heart as well as your head. This may be the most important statement on what is really wrong in America as we get continuous coverage and worship of the Kardashians at the expense of tragedies here and abroad. We may have lost our heart.)
09/11/10 Time for a Dump Obama Movement
A couple of weeks ago, in comments on various blogs, I threw out the notion that it was time to start a Dump Obama movement. It stirred up a variety of responses:
The move is premature.
We need to concentrate on further exposing Obama first.
The masses aren’t yet ready.
We need to overthrow the entire system, not just Obama.
Congress is a worthier target.
Republicans are worse.
As well, a significant number of folks were either intrigued or downright enthusiastic.
Since then, I have seen a growing stream of posts illuminating the extent to which Obama has been initiating right-wing policies which can in no way, shape or form be blamed on his inability to control a Republican-dominated Congress, among the best being Glenn Greenwald’s “The profound mystery of the ‘enthusiasm gap’”.Especially interesting was a September 8 piece by FireDogLake’s Jon Walker "Why Should I Care? Leaders Lack Good Reasons to Vote For Democrats – or Against Republicans”, in which he attempts a hardball analysis of the consequences of a Republican takeover of Congress, noting:
I’ve been told for two years a mere 59 Democrats in the Senate are powerless due to the filibuster; by this same logic, we have nothing to fear from Republican gains because they will never be able to get anything through a Democratic filibuster, and even if they do, Obama can veto it … Talk of how a segment of Republican candidates favors privatizing Social Security or eliminating Medicare does demonstrate that they are out of touch with mainstream America, but in all honesty there is zero possibility that either move would come about as a result of Republican action alone, with or without winning narrow control of the House.
At the same time, the din of hysterical “Republicans will eat middle-class babies” articles and comments are becoming a steady chorus, as erstwhile radicals clarify their loyalties.
Timing is everything. It is time to develop a tactical focus to our discontent. Now is the time to begin a Dump Obama movement.
I hold to the following:
- The excuse that Obama is any kind of liberal but held hostage by congressional Republicans is completely bankrupt. Further exposure of Obama is helpful but in no way a precondition for a Dump Obama movement.
- Enough people would support a Dump Obama movement to give it, not an immediate majority, but critical mass.
- Dump Obama gives the left (broadly defined) a bully pulpit not readily available elsewhere, an opportunity to focus a wide array of political forces — populist, progressive, radical — that would normally not be able to work together.
- The 2012 presidential primaries provide progressives with an existing structure for a Dump Obama movement.
- The argument that our primary concern must be to prevent a Republican takeover is bankrupt and worse, a public menace.
- The key concept at this point is building a movement, not coming to agreement on a candidate or specific organizational vehicle (timing is everything).
Obama is no innocent hostage
- Obama could end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell as commander-in-chief, in practice if not through legislation. But his Justice Department is defending it against a REPUBLICAN challenge.
- Obama didn’t have to cut a pre-election deal with the healthcare industry precluding bargaining over drug prices, imports from Canada, and a public option.
- Obama could close Guantanamo as commander-in-chief.
- Obama could renounce George Bush’s claim on dictatorial presidential powers, including assassination of American citizens, rather than extending them.
- Obama could order his Justice Department to prosecute Bush era war criminals.
- Obama could end the war in Afghanistan as commander-in-chief, ending the slaughter of wedding parties.
- Obama could use his powers to make recess appointments to give progressives such as Dawn Johnsen a foothold in his administration.
- Obama could end the Catfood Commission he insisted on after it was REJECTED by Congress.
- Obama could simply veto any extension of the Bush tax cuts for the rich, rather than pointedly refusing to promise to do.
- Obama could use the bully pulpit for so many causes, rather than cower in front of a Congress that has 59 senators.
My fingers grow weary, but others could add to this list.
”Hey hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”
Lately, I’ve been seeing references (mostly disparaging) to the Dump Johnson movement of 1967-68. Critics of Obama, when not Nader-baited, are tarred with that brush. It is fascinating that Obama defenders are the ones recalling the Dump Johnson movement. Nervous?
In 1967, protest against the war in Vietnam was running high, with massive demonstrations and widespread turmoil. The focus was on the government, the system, and Lyndon Johnson. It was not couched in Democrat vs. Republican terms, and a major element of the debate within the left was whether to participate in electoral politics at all. Liberal Senator Eugene McCarthy, an early critic of the war, determined that there was sufficient base for running against Johnson in the primaries in 68. After he scored 42% of the vote in the New Hampshire primary, Johnson dropped out. At that point, Bobby Kennedy dropped in, and was seen as the likely Democratic Party nominee. Except for him being shot and killed.
The nod went to Vice President Hubert Humphrey, a solid example of the species “cold-war liberal.” He was rightly seen as a Johnson stooge, and the police riot against the McCarthy people at the Chicago convention didn’t help. The left was less than whole-heartedly supportive of Humphrey, and Nixon narrowly won.
- The left was “credited” with throwing the election to Nixon.
- The left was credited with ending the war in Vietnam, however long it dragged on under Nixon.
Electoral ins-and-outs aside, it is clear that Johnson’s war policies (which generated the protests) led to the election of Richard Nixon. What a fucking shame. Let’s examine the equation.
We ended up with Richard Nixon, who while performing any number of villainous acts ended the draft, and gave 18-year-olds the vote. His policies were a grudging continuation of the liberal welfare state. After committing unspeakable crimes against the Vietnamese people, he pulled the U.S. troops out of Vietnam.
The war in Vietnam turned out to be a massive blow to the American economy, with 55,000 dead U.S. troops, as Johnson tried to pursue both guns and butter. And by the way, the war was directly responsible for the deaths of one million Vietnamese combatants, two million Vietnamese civilians, and one million Cambodians. That’s 4,000,000 people. That’s approaching serious Holocaust numbers
We rightly bemoan the 5,000 Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. But that’s an 800 to 1 ratio, people! Eight hundred to one! EIGHT HUNDRED TO ONE! (sorry) But according to some lights, the left should have chilled out on the war lest it elect a Republican. So much for simple humanity.
So let’s deal with the “lesser evil thing” head-on
After all, both progressives and the general public get hung up on this.
The Walker piece is particularly interesting, as he makes a cogent argument for the difference between Democrats and Republicans being insignificant. I happen to have serious disagreements with the foundation of the piece. He ACCEPTS a variation of the question “which is worse,” Democrats or Republicans, and argues that the difference is insignificant based on how a Republican win of Congress might play out. For instance, George Bush was unable to slash Social Security due to, among other things, staunch Democratic Party opposition. But Obama might be able to gut Social Security because he could disarm much of the Democratic opposition and — in alliance with the Republicans — ram it through. In a different vein, Obama’s veto pen could thwart any number of Republican initiatives. Thus the left is free to campaign for what it actually believes in, and can play hardball with Democratic candidates, because actual collateral damage would be minimal.
This analysis is far superior to the simplistic comparison of Democratic vs. Republican programmatics. But it leaves us terribly vulnerable.
In other words, Walker still accepts that dualistic framework. And who controls the choices ultimately controls the fight. Suppose Obama performed one good deed while the Republicans started open advocacy (rather than Obama’s covert encouragement) of war with Iran? Strategy would have to be re-evaluated every time someone made a speech. Who’s better today? Well, that’s no way to run either a railroad or a revolution.
At the risk of still being schematic, let’s add another factor equation: What is good for the movement, or what is good for the left? The left has been making these lesser-evil choices for generations, and I have to say that things are going badly. The point now is not to support the Republicans, or to secretly hope they win, but to build a populist progressive movement on our own terms, without being overdetermined by their partisan definition of the battlefield.
The “do you want to elect a Republican” logic is corrosive, deadly for progressives, rots out our souls on a vast array of issues. Afghanistan is now Obama’s war. Opposition to the war is opposition to Obama’s policies. It can only diminish Obama’s support at the base. Whether a little or a lot is beside the point. Given the current frenzy over the congressional elections, ANY diminishing of Obama’s stature can invoke the Republican menace. Shut up on the war.
Outcry over the BP oil spill might remind us that Obama had been fine with offshore drilling, and that Obama has been covering up the extent of the damage and shielding BP. Should progressives now shut up about this lest it harm the Democrats in November?
The Democrats hate discussing the abortion issue, lest it cost them votes. Should pro-choice advocates now shut the fuck up?
Should demanding jobs and extended benefits for the unemployed be shelved, since unemployment is now a Republican talking point?
Should gay leadership now lay off the DADT thing, etc., etc.
Once that logic is accepted, it seeps like poison into the groundwater, corrupting everything for miles around. It is poison for the left. It deadens every progressive issue.
Even if we reject lesser-evil logic, however, does specifically building a Dump Obama movement further the progressive cause?
The public has to be brought in
Put yourself in the place of Jane or John Q. Public. You know the system sucks, you are out of a job, and here are your choices:
- Government could create millions of jobs rebuilding our infrastructure, our safety net, etc., and using any means necessary that things keep running if mass capital tries to sabotage our lives.
- Cut taxes for the richest corporations, in the desperate hope that they will use their profits to at least create a few more jobs.
Choice #1 is obviously preferable. You know Wall Street has totally fucked us. BUT, if you are convinced that Choice #1 is not an option (Obama’s $50 billion infrastructure plan is hopelessly inadequate), then what else can you do but say, "well, we gotta give #2 a chance," and if trashing some ethnic or religious group helps my odds, sad but …
They’ve done a pretty good job convincing folks that #1 is off the table. Even the left and the blogosphere seem to have given up, seriously uncomfortable with the notion of "using any means necessary" to accomplish, well, anything. The blogosphere sounds very angry. Keeps exposing the details of which everyone already knows in the broad strokes. But the Democrats know they can break any promise with impunity. No consequences.
As I’ve said many times, exposing what is already exposed but doing more of it fits the classical definition of insanity (doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result).
There has to be a tactic. If there is nothing you can do, or do in concert with your neighbors, then you have to accept what is offered, however inadequate. We have to deliver consequences.
Dump Obama is a tactic. It is a tactic whether or not it succeeds in ousting Obama. It offers an alternative to the Republicans AND pressures the Democrats. If the Democrats are then too stupid to respond to that pressure, I will not be held hostage to THEIR stupidity.
The merits of Dump Obama for building a movement
Some have argued that Dump Obama is too simplistic. But in fact its simplicity is its beauty.
Progressives are constantly bemoaning that the masses can’t grasp their complex analytical arguments, their profound understanding of the system. Masses are too easily swayed by slogans, all that. Dump Obama is a nice slogan and fits on a bumper sticker in real big letters.
Many progressives have issues dear to them, and the blogosphere reflects that diversity. Diversity is fine, but so is unity. Obama is, among other things, a symbol of the government, not just a symbol of the Democratic Party. He can “unify” our progressive opposition.
Dump the system? Sure. Go after the Senate? Why not? Go after the Republicans? If we advance progressive issues, they will not escape our ire.
The presidential primaries provide a vehicle to express that opposition. Can Obama be beaten there? Probably not. The incumbency is a powerful tool. But McCarthy didn’t “beat” Johnson either. Still brought him down.
Here it is worth making a comparison with 1967. There was substantial ferment that year, which provided the foundation for people to go “Neat and clean for Eugene.” Bobby Kennedy waited until McCarthy had laid the groundwork for him to enter the race. He was accused of opportunism, rightly so. Today, there is no such corresponding movement. At the same time, discontent is much wider than it was in 1967. In 1967, people broadly believed in America. Today, they’re just stuck in America. The disparity between anger — including anger at the system — and organized protest is immense, stunning, potentially volatile. While the level of open protest is small, the hysteria that any protest generates is totally out of proportion.
Some have argued that it is “too early” for raising the Dump Obama banner. Because the base isn’t there. Au contraire. One of the weaknesses of the Dump Johnson movement was that it basically opportunized off the movement, did not last beyond 1968. It was in fact, in some ways, the right wing of the movement. Today, given the weakness of the movement, Dump Obama would stake out the left wing. And by moving to get ahead of the curve, we might be able to deal better with the various candidates that will surely jump into the fray in 2011, whether from progressive or opportunistic motives. The base is there but not organized, because it falls by default under the rubric of the Democratic Party.
The word is Movement
Note that I call for a Dump Obama movement, not a campaign committee, not a candidate. (Dennis Kucinich? Russ Feingold? Jane Hamsher? Who knows?) Nor does a Dump Obama movement have to confine itself to the primaries, when independents make up a third of the electorate. I assume there will still be a general election. It’s a matter of timing. All these questions and more will have to be addressed. But to be able to address them, we have to get something going. The exposure has been done, the misery is all around us, the rage explodes all around us in often unfortunate ways. The concept of movement provides the beginning of how these elements might begin to gel. That will provide the preconditions for taking this further.
The system is fragile. Huge, but fragile. It is on the edge, economically and geopolitically. Obama’s police state policies reflect his awareness of this. That his defenders are already warning us of their interpretation of the Dump Johnson legacy is telling. We have to sense their weakness as well as they do.
(Ed’s note: This was written in September 2010. Obama had been in office less than two years. At that time, though I was very disappointed, I was still hoping to see meaningful dynamic action from Obama any day now. I had worked very hard on his campaign and certainly did not want to believe his record would last. Tragically, Obama has now pushed Bush’s agenda far more than Bush could ever get away with the environment, war, disastrous trade policies, civil rights violations, education, poverty and other areas. Even more tragic, for many nothing has changed as a huge group of people still worship him and look forward to a Hilary Clinton presidency. It is as if a person’s imaginary world trumps reality and as if a few shallow talking points can overcome all documentation. The NPA has changed from trying to make a difference electorally to being an educational association documenting for future generations. Jeff and Rose Roby clearly were prophets who tried mightily to change things for the better. I am sure it gives them no pleasure to have been right all along.)
05/01/11 How to destroy the Democratic Party
… and build a viable independent alternative. Over the past few months, I’ve put out various comments stressing the critical need for organization, that the growing cries for action post Egypt/Wisconsin (we must take to the streets, general strike!, vote them out) remain at a level of abstraction, or calls to individuals, calls for morality, calls for courage.
But the masses are not rising up. The Obama/Boehner onslaught continues. The only ones to pretend the left is more than a disorganized rabble are those hardcore Dems who pump this up to make it seem that THEIR fantasy of taking over the Democratic Party is the only game in town. The strongest resistance to Obama/Boehner has been led by the unions in Wisconsin and neighboring states, and that is — at least for the time being — contained in the shelter of the Democratic Party.
05/14/11 So you say you want a revolution…
Let’s look at the system-busters:
WELFARE: A COMMITMENT TO ENDING POVERTY: All people have a right to food, housing, medical care, jobs that pay a living wage, education, and support in times of hardship … Work performed outside the monetary system has inherent social and economic value, and is essential to a healthy, sustainable economy and peaceful communities … federally funded entitlement program to support children, families, the unemployed, elderly and disabled, with no time limit on benefits. … We call for a graduated supplemental income, or negative income tax, that would maintain all individual adult incomes above the poverty level, regardless of employment or marital status.
UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE: … universal, comprehensive, national single-payer health plan … Lifetime benefits for everyone. No one will lose coverage for any reason.
LIVEABLE INCOME: … universal basic income (sometimes called a guaranteed income, negative income tax, citizen’s income, or citizen dividend). This would go to every adult regardless of health, employment, or marital status, in order to minimize government bureaucracy and intrusiveness into people’s lives. The amount should be sufficient so that anyone who is unemployed can afford basic food and shelter.
I have little patience with those who carp that electoral politics are useless. They are a useful tactic, a place where organizing can take place, they give the left an aura of legitimacy. But you can’t just legislate socialism, and you can’t just legislate the near-socialism embodied in the Green or SP platforms. The essence of socialism, real socialism, is that the working class — or the people, if you prefer — runs society. Not just passes laws for running it.
Naked legislation is a prescription for catastrophe
The bullshit left argument is that if we shut down certain parts of the economy, that money can be invested elsewhere. Maybe, if that investment were government-directed AND managed, with no requirement that it turn a profit. But remember the health of an economy is not determined by how much money the capitalists have, either personal or corporate funds. Rather, that health is determined by whether the capitalists believe that money can be re-invested at a profit. This is why a rising stock market is indicative of absolutely nothing. This is why the banks are drowning in cash while small businesses go begging.
So the doomsayers are right?
No way! I’m not writing this to discourage anyone. Don’t be packing your bags. Rather, I’m trying to put into perspective the immensity of the task. Which has to be taken on, if we are to survive the slow (and not so slow) motion collapse we are in the midst of. It is going to take a level of organization this world has never seen. On a practical level:
- The broad politic of resistance should be firmly populist, not socialist or quasi-socialist. The disparity between the level of social organization and the highly-interwoven system held together by spit and gum is too great, and people’s gut sense of this — whether or not explicitly articulated — is too great, and deters parties like the Greens from making serious inroads, quite aside from their lack of aggressive organizing.
- On a practical level, there are no easy fixes, and any short-term solutions are just that, short-term. The system is structurally broken, this is a dying empire, and its potential to collapse on our heads rather than inspiring spontaneous uprising is terrifying. Resistance such as in Greece is inspiring, but cannot reach into the heart of the system. We need a vision that embraces serious structural changes to the economic and political system, whether socialism, a new world order, or something unforeseen, with the organizational strength to make it stick.
- Hence we need a high level of social organization, such as actually emerged in the South and Midwest during the populist period in the 1800’s, where entire communities banded together with the urban labor movement to oppose the robber barons. And that organization must be able to operate on a populist level tactically, while simultaneously working towards long-term structural change.
- Elections are a tactic. The exact role they play is yet to be determined. They could create an Allende-like crisis, where the fight has to be finished in the streets, or they could be used to “seal the deal” following a broad range of struggles. The notion that elections are useless for serious change is both trivial and, in fact, useless.
- The crisis is international. Whatever conclusions we may draw, international developments will call many of the shots, and open up the potential for strong alliances.
Thrilling days of yesteryear
In the 30’s, the organizers of the industrial unions had a good slogan, “Organize ourselves! Organize the organizers! Organize the masses!” You can’t just have people organizing willy-nilly as a bunch of individuals. Goes nowhere. People remain as (heroic) individuals, and that individuality renders them impotent.
- Organize ourselves. Even a group of two has vastly more power than any individual. Develop a plan. Develop a common perspective on how the system works, how to approach it strategically. My piece How to Destroy the Democratic Party … tries to lay out a partial perspective. I note with some excitement the recent pieces by Liz Berry, The majority of Americans are fed up with the Tea Party/Republican AND the Democrat Parties, and matthewj, No Confidence Protest Vote 2012. I have serious disagreements with both, but both have a strategic/organizational component that is a cut above. Then there is the New Progressive Alliance (NPA), which has a much more sophisticated perspective, working both within and outside the Democratic Party to build a crossover alliance of progressives.
- Organize the organizers. With a plan in hand, and a core grouping to carry it out, you can organize others AROUND THAT PLAN itself.
- Organize the masses. (Okay, maybe the lingo can be updated from 1930’s CP-speak.) With critical mass achieved, campaigns can be launched to build new base organizations at different levels. We absolutely cannot just leap to this level. As heroic individuals, the problem is to get everyone out of the pool — the same pool — at the same time. There may be spontaneous events, but neither the events in Wisconsin or Egypt were spontaneous. There were organized forces behind them. If they appeared to “come out of nowhere,” that has to do with the acquired blindness of the media, the State Department, and the American left.
As usual, I raise more questions than I answer. But I firmly believe that we need to start with step one. We need to discuss actual plans, not just battle cries, and begin to coalesce around those plans. They don’t have to be perfect. It is in practice that their merits will be tested.
(Ed’s note: The New Progressive Alliance tried to do this by starting with state liaisons in each state. We got lots of the “Sign me up!” that Jeff also got with his efforts. The unfortunate reality is that for both of us people are addicted to the blogosphere rather than doing any real work necessary for organizing.)
05/29/11 Do you want to help organize a jailbreak?
In the last couple diaries I’ve written, I’ve tried to create a framework for radical action. How to Destroy the Democratic Party sets up a broad approach for taking on, if not over, the Democratic Party base organizations, and Say You Want a Revolution tries to outline the scale of organization required for serious structural change. Ambitious indeed!
But how about tomorrow? What’s the bridge between our small, disorganized condition now and the large tasks I’ve recently delineated? I throw this in everyone else’s face, so it’s only fair it be thrown in mine.
I was once tutored by an old friend who had been a machinist in his younger days. He talked about tool-making, that most of this high-precision work entailed building tools. Tools to build other tools. To build yet more tools. On and on until it call came together for the tools building the myriad parts that we drive down the street or heat and cool our homes or watch bad movies and lying news shows on.
A rough assessment:
Likewise with politics. Continuing from the diaries referenced above, we start with a strategic assessment of what forces have to come into play for serious social change. The situation at the moment is:
- The corporate elite has taken the Democratic Party – the party that absorbs the organizations and protests of the working class and purports to represent them – and gutted it. The base is adrift.
- Over 40% of the electorate is registered independent in one form or another (3rd party, no preference, independent, whatever). A significant percentage of them are progressives, and most of them are alienated from the system to some extent.
- The political/economic system is on the edge of a precipice. We inhabit a dying empire, vulnerable to defeat in the international arena. But will we in the U.S. benefit from the decline and fall? Or will it all come crashing down on our heads?
- The corporate elite is uneasily bolstered by having a racist and fascist mass base that has the potential to violently crush democratic opposition in a way that the naked state apparatus cannot. The elite now dicker over whether we should be eaten as appetizers, or saved for the main course.
The current status quo allows the corporate elite to plot at their leisure, with complete tactical flexibility. One way it could play out is that the current Republican House majority could jam Obama to further shred our jobs and safety net, then Republican over-reach could allow the Democrats to re-assert themselves and preside over the bloody remains and call it progress. I am an optimist.
This is still a democracy.
Don’t laugh. Controlled, manipulated, circumvented, bought, weakened by the day. Yet still we have elections. The rules are changed at will, manipulated against us, but still we have rules. That the corporate elite must circumvent them is testament to their existence. Those who think otherwise should tell us their plans. So how do we break up the status quo? Use the electoral arena to build an alliance between progressive Democrats and progressive independents.
This throws a monkey wrench in several ways. First, it confounds the standard appeal for eternal Democratic fealty – you have nowhere to go. Indeed, a simple Democratic Party breakaway could be easily marginalized. Likewise, progressive independents are defined out of existence by being lumped together as an amorphous centrist, moderate, 3rd-way bunch. Alone, they are not an organized force. However, if united with progressive Democrats, with progressives speaking with one voice, they would constitute a potentially majoritarian force. How that might be expressed is an open question. Third party? Crossing over in states with open primaries? The key to linkage would be a broadly populist appeal – for jobs, against Middle Eastern adventures, defense of the safety net, gay and abortion rights.
Breaking up the Right
Beyond its own numbers, it would be able to engage the base of the tea partiers. Yes, I know, the Tea Party serves the Republicans. Yes, I know the teabag legions were bussed to the healthcare town hall meetings with corporate dollars. All that. But their base is a mixed bag, contains millions of working people the Democrats disdain because of the party’s rank elitism. An independent force, not so shackled, could compete for those hearts and minds. Could win over – certainly not all of them, not their hard core racists, not their proud fascists, but millions of ordinary folks terrified of an unaccountable government out of control and leaving them out of jobs, out of hope. That fascist base cannot be taken over, but it can be broken up. It can be rendered ineffective. It can be stripped naked revealing its wealthy corporate core.
Sound good? Of course it sounds good. Possible? That’s the $64 billion question. That’s where we need to go back to my machinist friend, small tools, built to create larger tools, which can crank out the final products that we see in our homes and on our streets.
The Right Tool at the Right Time
So we come to the New Progressive Alliance. It states:
We not only support a primary election challenge to Barack Obama in 2012, but will endorse an Independent or third-party candidate to oppose both major party marionettes in the general election, who publicly pledges to run on the Unified Progressive Platform and to govern based upon that platform when elected.
The NPA primary candidate would be required to declare at the end of the Democratic nomination process:
“I therefore throw my support to neither this party nor the other — but to us, the American people — and I encourage you to volunteer, work, and vote for ________________.” On that line would be the name of the NPA’s endorsed general election candidate.
It’s a small organization, born online at FireDogLake and growing, with an organizational structure that uses the blogosphere but has a separate organizational existence. Its significance is that it embraces the inside/outside, progressive Dem/progressive indy strategic vision, and its platform is well framed to drive a wedge between the Dem leadership and the Dem base. It is a small tool, but the correct one, provided it can hang on, continue to grow, and eventually reach critical mass.
On the surface, there is one small problem: it has as of yet no candidate for the Democratic primaries. It continues its candidate search, but there is no guarantee that any of the prospective candidates “nominated” at FDL last fall will accept the NPA’s call to run on the NPA platform and agree to endorse the NPA’s independent nominee in the fall.
(Ed’s note: FDL may have been a Democratic Party plant. They were completely open to criticism of the Democratic Party two years out of a presidential election and then resorted to more and more censorship as an election grew closer and doubled down on the democrats good – republicans bad refrain. Censorship included banning and destroying the writings of those who allegedly broke their rules and random wondering deletion of writings. Both FDL and its successor Shadowrproof have moved strongly to eliminate new input from below.)
A strategy which is dependent on some big name stepping into the fray is a fatally flawed strategy. But is the NPA so flawed? I believe not. There are (not mutually exclusive) alternatives.
Just Say No!
(1) If the NPA cannot field a candidate, whether because no one steps forward, insufficient resources or inability to agree on one, there is the option of running the Nancy Reagan Memorial Just Say No campaign. No, I’m not saying the NPA should run Nancy Reagan for president. Rather, during campaign season, the Democratic Party base organizations give endorsements and make resource allocations for get-out-the-vote operations. Here the NPA could work off the lead provided by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who on May 20 stated:
What we are saying is for people who support workers, we’re going to be with them. And candidates who don’t support workers, we’re not going to be with them. The difference is we are not going to spend precious resources helping candidates that don’t stand up and help us.
This could be a real campaign. Argue for “no endorsement.” It would gain some level of support, even if not defeating the sold-out leadership of these organizations. The NPA’s task would be to consolidate that support organizationally. This would entail having some kind of organization WITHIN the Democratic Party.
Roll Your Own
(2) A stronger move would be for the NPA to run its “own” candidate, whether or not she or he has a big name. As it stands, the NPA candidates must pledge to back the NPA-endorsed independent in the generals. But apart from their bad habit of backing the Dem nominee, primary challengers all too often simply drop out if they don’t score big in the early rounds. Pledge or no pledge, you can’t enforce energy or enthusiasm. Not to mention that pledges have been known to be broken.
By running its own, the NPA has a much greater degree of control. Will she be marginalized by the press? Of course. Denied a place in the debates? Certainly. Denied ballot access in the primaries? No.
Ballot requirements vary from state to state. While there are a few very tough nuts to crack (which should probably be written off), most require a filing fee of maybe $500 and/or 500 to 1,000 signatures. And a good lawyer to keep the paperwork invulnerable to challenge. This is very doable for maybe a 40-state run. The NPA can guarantee itself a campaign.
Fringe candidates have a tradition of running fringe campaigns, seeking media gimmicks, clever sound-bites, etc. The NPA candidate, however, would run dead-serious on its mainstream progressive platform. To the argument that such a candidate couldn’t win in the generals, she has a delicious counter: if she wins, the corporate Dems have no place else to go. Switch to the Republicans? Not with the Tea Party running batshit crazy. Or if they did, well, that would be exposing.
One concern, if the NPA recruits a big name, even one who takes the pledge, there is no guarantee that the big name could carry her or his followers into the generals as independent. By running its own, whatever the vote totals, the NPA comes out of it with its own campaign organization which can most definitely work independent in the generals.
(Ed’s note: The NPA tried to run just such a campaign as a 527. Upon being unable to do that, we changed to a 501c4 educational association. We endorsed all candidates who backed our Unified Platform and focused on getting a message based upon the Unified Platform out.)
2012 is not Armageddon
Dark as things may be, the forces of light and darkness will not have their final showdown within the Democratic Party, with the NPA supporters all sailing independent in the aftermath. The NPA isn’t that strong, bureaucratic inertia too great. Apocalyptic thinking would lead to the NPA becoming just another left sect, marginalized in the 3rd party ghetto along with the Socialist Party, the Progressive Party, the Socialist Labor Party, and even the Greens.
Inside/outside is a strategy for the long haul, not just the clever tactic of the moment. So let’s think about tools again.
A Bridge Just Far Enough
When the Allies stormed ashore on D-Day, they took a very, very small strip of land. Germany didn’t fall that day. Not even France. The master stroke was that to that tiny foothold, they brought over the pieces of a pre-made, man-made harbor to supply it. That opened the way for all that was to come.
Likewise, at this stage the NPA needs to be, and is, creating the organizational tools needed to seize and hold a beachhead within the Democratic Party, a different set of tools needed to create and hold a beachhead in the independent arena. AND the bridge-building tools to link these two beachheads.
All sorts of people have a happy or not-so-happy home in the Democratic Party. Many have their cozy hovels on the independent side. The genius of the NPA is that it is building the bridge between them that allows progressives on each side to reinforce each other. Thus while the strategic task is to take down the Democratic Party, the tactical task, to put it another way, is to create those beachheads and nurture them to critical mass.
Critical Mass Is Critical
This is a key concept, which the Tea Party understands much better than the left. Progressives are often blinded by the majoritarian bias that is supposedly the essence of democracy, that if 50% plus 1% of the public believes something, the minority is effectively negated. But thinking in terms of critical mass, the question becomes whether a group has reached the size to carry out a particular action or campaign, whether in the streets or at the pools. The key is not percentage, but absolute numbers.
What that mass is needs to be determined. But at a minimum, it means being large enough and smart enough to be self-sustaining, and beyond that, able to grow.
A Final Word
At regular intervals, I read comments to the effect that “I’ve had it, this last sellout is too much to stomach, I’ll never support another Democrat, etc.” I appreciate the sentiment. So why don’t I say that? Because I think it’s individualistic bullshit. People are fed up? Great. So are lots of people. But dropping away one at a time, EVEN IF many people drop away one at a time at the same time, it only makes the Democratic Party more comfortable. One at a time, they don’t go to the same place, they don’t act in concert. Their potential power is not felt.
In a Reid Report post excoriating NPA steering committee member Cornel West and the NPA in general, Joy Reid writes:
With all due respect — have some cojones. If you want to put up a third party candidate who will be more liberal, do it. Stop playing games with the Democratic Party, which already has its nominee, and which overwhelmingly supports its nominee.
(Ed’s note: The NPA has never had anything to do with the Democratic Party. The NPA later disassociated itself from Cornel West because he refused to break from supporting Obama in 2012. )
They are quite happy with this steady trickle into the 3rd party ghetto. So if you’ve “had it,” fine. But think beyond yourself. How many others are of similar ilk? How close to splitting are they? How many? Who can you take with you? And where? It’s like you’re in a prison. Do you want to engineer your own personal escape?
Or would you rather help organize a jailbreak?
06/05/11 Misery Doesn’t Love Company
Mis’ry don’t love nothin’.
We’ve seen an enormous increase in misery, with millions consigned to unemployment, foreclosure, homelessness, hunger and disease right here in the United States. So the poor must be rising up, right? Nope.
In the absence of hope, of new possibilities, poverty is actually conservatizing. When you live on the edge, taking chances means potentially losing everything. When protesting can mean not getting your check, not feeding your kids, then protest is in fact irresponsible unless it is part of a collective act. But collective acts do not spring up, the collectivity has to be organized.
This has nothing in common with opposing the Democratic mantra denouncing 3rd party efforts as bringing Republican destruction on widows and orphans. The point of 3rd party organizing is to build the tools of resistance to that destruction, not to bring it on. Abandoning that organizing is to abandon any and all hope. Yes, there are casualties in struggle, but as has been said, every child who dies of hunger is a victim of violence. The emiseristas would have us abandon the resistance.
The poor HAVE been an important force for revolution and revolt. Their needs are not easily met and, when organized, they have been among the most radical. Bringing their demands to the fore makes a mockery of the crumbs that the powers-that-be would throw our way. When they are organized.
Today, they are not organized. That the progressive left has left the unemployed and the homeless and the hungry out to dry (a sign of deep-seated racism, among other things) is no small part of why the left is so pathetically weak. I could make moral arguments here, even appeal to a well-justified sentimentality. But the fact is that when the poor are left out of the equation, it leaves us profoundly weak. In the 1930’s, the left was satisfied with meeting the needs of the industrial workers, did not carry the fight onward for the unemployed and the destitute.
06/11/11 Everybody talks about the unemployed…
… but nobody does anything about it. Including the left.
Yeah sure, when they roll out their litany of charges against Obama, they cite the unemployment percentage, the REAL unemployment percentage, they decry the cutbacks, the impact on the elderly, the threat to Social Security and Medicare, all that. Good for them. But they don’t do anything about the poor and the unemployed — like organize them. Not even to vote.
There was once this truism on the left, among both progressive Democrats and 3rd party advocates, that if the Democratic Party (or 3rd parties) put forward a progressive platform, campaigned on issues meeting their needs, the poor would be motivated to come out and vote, and that would transform the American electorate for the better. But they usually got beat within the party, and when they did get some good stuff into the campaign, the poor didn’t turn out in significant numbers anyway. Non-voters tended to remain non-voters. Still, it was a plausible argument. But a survey of the blogosphere would show that even that argument has pretty much died out — at a time when the voice of the poor has never been more needed, and even liberals are starting to wonder, where is that voice?
Instead, the left sheds its tears on how Obama has abandoned the middle class, how the middle class is being destroyed, how the middle class is becoming poor. Certainly those tears are deserved. But even then, one might ask — if large numbers of the so-called middle class are being destroyed, unemployed, foreclosed, even homeless — why aren’t they being organized as the poor people that they have become?
The reasons are myriad, but the results are the same. First, there are simply those who don’t give a damn. To them, I’ll simply reword an old homily, “First they came for the homeless, but I wasn’t homeless …”
Modern liberals, who consider it a major faux pas to quote Marx, prefer the analogous concept of the underclass: poor people, long-term welfare recipients, street criminals, drug addicts and alcoholics, the homeless, prostitutes, school drop-outs, those living on the underground economy, hustlers, bag ladies, children of “broken homes” with unmarried mothers, drifters, released mental patients, and those marginally employed, babysitters, day laborers, burned-out war veterans. And now the unemployed.
Sometimes used to blame the victims themselves for the existence of poverty (the Bell Curve), sometimes dripping with pity, the concept has been used to describe much of the Black and Real bottom line: most of them don’t even vote! For Democrats. And if you don’t vote for Democrats, what good are you?
Summer of the 99’ers
Last winter through early summer, I was sweating out the last of my 99 weeks of unemployment benefits, lurching from extension to extension, trying to sell my home before Chase rammed through a foreclosure, owing money all over the place. Somebody steered me to an article about an online Union of the Unemployed (UCubed) started under the auspices of the International Association of Machinists (IAM). Hey! That’s me! I signed right up and become one of its approximately 1,000-and-growing membership.
My chief concern at the time was that there were only 4 tiers of unemployment benefits (99 weeks at most), but the union wasn’t pushing for extending the benefits beyond this. It was hands-off for the Democratic congressional majority, and instead focused on targeting Republicans like Jim Bunning. In a gesture to actually serving real people, it guided members to stuff like nutrition programs. In addition, we were to put ourselves in Cubes of 6 (as they now say, “Form a cube, and multiply your political and economic power by 6. Then by 36. Eventually, by 31 million.” Hah!), but there was no ready way analogous to a union hall to communicate with all the membership. The membership was tightly controlled and atomized. So I got a bright idea — create a Facebook page called the Union of the Unemployed Thinktank, where the members could, well, think and talk to each other. My wife and I sent invitations to each and every one of about 2,000 members (membership has now peaked at around 4,200), and within a few weeks the Thinktank had about 200 members. All sorts of folks, angry and afraid, some hoping the Thinktank could get them a job, others calling for a march on Washington, many just blowing off steam. Very afraid.
Facebook is a fast way to reach a lot of people, but it’s hard to focus, and decision-making was awkward, to say the least. I would post suggestions on the Thinktank wall and ask if anyone objected. (“Seeing none, the motion passes.”)
As thanks for my efforts, the IAM’s acting boss of UCubed Rick Sloan summarily purged me from UCubed, on the grounds that an organization that I had been trying to build, the Full Court Press, was counter to their principles. (I had been trying to recruit challengers in the Democratic congressional primaries.) Not a word about my activities in UCubed, outright defending the Democratic Party.
One Thinktank member named Paladinette, along with her wonderful friend Jenifer Ann, was inspired by the Thinktank and started a page called Now: JOBLESS / Next: HOMELESS which had a plan to jam congressional faxes on a given set of days by having the unemployed fax in their resumes and demand a Tier 5, i.e., extensions beyond 99 weeks. Focus was what we needed, so I backed her play, sending a message to all Thinktank members urging them to join Paladinette’s effort, while I publicized it as much as I could, mainly with a series of pieces on Docudharma and Corrente. The effort was partially successful. Congressional fax machines were jammed, the tireless media work of her and Jenifer got the term 99’ers into the vocabulary, and people were moralized for a time.
But we were ultimately beaten. One congressman was interested in introducing legislation for a Tier 5, but couldn’t get support. “No appetite,” we were told.
By summer’s end, it had played out. No number of faxes and phone calls was going to move the Democratic congressional majority into doing anything for the unemployed. We didn’t have the political muscle, we didn’t have the organizational strength, we didn’t have a broader framework to locate this in, and that was going to have to be built. Beyond extensions, we needed nothing less than a WPA-style federal jobs program. I told Paladinette and Jenifer this, and that’s what I then set out to do with my puny means, feeling like I was scurrying out of the Alamo as Santa Ana closed in.
… the hardest thing in all this was people’s neediness. Having created the Thinktank, I felt the horrible weight of people looking to me for ideas, for help, for jobs, for leadership. The desperation was hard to bear, knowing that I had no jobs, no immediate help to give. It just wasn’t there, of course, I knew that, but I still couldn’t hold back my tears.
I ran into some “attitudes” …
- First there were those offended by the very notion of organizing the poor:
… organizing “the poor” depends first and foremost upon becoming “the poor.” Otherwise, it’s just one more case of salvationist liberals coming in as tourists, to tell the proles how to better live like liberals … [and another] You can’t organize a group you aren’t already a member of. As a poor person, I am sick to death of meddling middling middles hand wringing about the poor only to blame us when shit hits the fan … Unless you are one of us, then perhaps skipping the condescension and following the first rule of being an ally is best- shut up, listen, learn.
I pointed out that I was unemployed. That transformed my condescending salvationism into wisdom, of course. And if someone had given me a job? I guess my writing would have reverted to its former meddling hand-wringing.
(Another piece I wrote got different reactions to the effect of: “Oh my god! I am poor!”)
Case study: Lansing Unemployed Council, 1975. A couple of us passed out fliers outside the unemployment center in Lansing, Michigan, recruited maybe 10 members including ourselves. There was an Army recruiting desk so we had a small demonstration, called in a half-dozen lefties from Detroit. Next week, the recruiting desk was gone. So far, so good. Then the president of the council wanted a woman “involved” with another member to be treasurer, as she had a crush on him. He wanted the little money the council had, she wanted him, and the woman’s boyfriend was pissed at everybody. We kept our hands on the money, but not until we had lent him our own money to fix his car, and it all went to hell rather quickly. Moral of the story: we didn’t fully grasp our own legitimacy and in fact our liberalism played a part in the failure of the council. By trying to help a few, we failed to help the many.
- A few people actually called Paladinette and Jenifer (and I suppose me) stupid for thinking they could influence politicians with faxes. No, they weren’t stupid. They were desperate. When trying to organize the unemployed, it’s not a contest in slogan-mongering, it’s people’s lives. Sometimes the very act of fighting back is worth more than any correct party line or revolutionary slogans.
Case study: San Francisco Unemployed and Welfare Council, 1976. We were tipped off about impending major welfare cutbacks. We set up a table outside the welfare center, signed people up, went inside the center and stirred things up. Cutbacks were postponed. Geniuses from the Prairie Fire Organizing Committee in the council explained that welfare recipients were privileged relative to those who couldn’t get on welfare at all because they couldn’t read English. The vanguard struggle was to have all forms in Spanish and Tagalog (Philippine). PFOC won. Council died.
When and when not to play political hardball is a very tough question. We were all bullied last year over the unemployed being held hostage so the rich could get a continuation of their tax breaks. Oh, the poor unemployed, the Democrats cried, we have to do this. Apart from whether the Democratic Congress could have fought harder, the fact is that MORE people will be destroyed because of the cutbacks in services resulting from the holes in the budgets that those tax breaks will rip. Again, though, it’s not a matter of revolutionary purity, but assessing the real impact on people’s lives. Short and long-term.
In both cases, we see that the system is very sensitive about the unemployed and the poor, whatever stern facade they try to present. In both situations, a few people were able to have SOME impact.
It is also clear that, whatever mistakes were made, both councils were fatally under-resourced.
Towards a new plan
This is not THE master plan, but it can give some direction. The examples of the unemployed councils of the 1930’s and the welfare organizing of the 60’s are helpful, but they do not provide blueprints. There are several factors that make the current situation unique.
- the poor are more fragmented than ever. Our electronic society allows greater geographical dispersion. At the same time, our electronic society creates the potential for dispersed individuals to act quickly in concert once a certain level of organization on the ground is attained.
- under the current economic crisis (the word crisis is not used lightly here), there is not a lot of surplus lying around to buy off the poor. At the same time, the current economic crisis leaves our society increasingly vulnerable and thus sensitive to minor acts of resistance.
- with the current political crisis, the poor are being thrown to the wolves without the usual solace offered by the Democratic Party. At the same time, the current political crisis creates the possibility and the necessity for the poor to enter the political arena as an independent force.
The immediate need is for support structure. The main problem with organizing the poor is that they’re too damn poor. They’re not herded together behind factory walls. In the community, they don’t wear badges saying “I am poor!” While there may be romantic myths about how great the poor are because they have nothing to lose, the fact is that poverty is conservatizing. Not in the sense of politically liberal vs. conservative, but in being unable to afford to take risks. One missed unemployment check possibly spells disaster, they are beholden to government agencies, not able to easily raise bail if actions get out of hand. They are invisible. They can be smashed down and “no one” would know. If a poor person dies in the forest . . .
So . . .
- Heavy support structure is required. Organizations of the poor, if they are to be fighting organizations, need to be able to get media coverage when under siege. They need to have ready access to bail. Legal expertise is critical. (One of the reasons students in the 60’s could be so militant was that they had easy access to all three.) There needs to be paid staff to maintain the basic organizational structure, membership lists, mailings, community regulars, at least minimal help in navigating government bureaucracies. Membership will likely be unstable, so constant outreach by a stable core is necessary to maintain numbers and increase them.
- Find out who’s already out there. It would be arrogant to think we are starting from scratch. Just because we haven’t heard about some groups doesn’t mean they aren’t there — we would suffer from similar invisibility. On the other hand, the fact that we aren’t seeing or hearing much could be a sign that there may not be much out there. Another problem is that local organizing could be hooked into the Democratic Party and locked into provided services, not viable politically. Or groups might be more interested in defending their turf than in uniting with anyone new. I am not terribly respectful of turf fights, things will have to be shaken up. As for groups and coalitions already in existence, we need to ask why they have not already united into a national force. Without going into it here, I suspect the problems are highly political.)
- Focus! Better to consolidate national resources into a few areas, get something going, even if small, keep it solid. One good prototype council is more valuable than dozens of scattered and powerless efforts. Failure in many locations does little. Success in one can spread.
- Take a few dramatic actions, like chaining folks to the gates of the SEC or White House, get some media. Yes, there were those demonstrations on Wall Street. But what was consolidated organizationally? Here is where the support structure is critical, to protect our own. Jail isn’t so bad — as long as you know you aren’t alone, that you’ll be bailed out, that you’ll have lawyers, that an organization will cover your ass. Alone it can be hell.
- Off that publicity, begin the nuts and bolts organizing of stable councils.
Much of the above is vague, as master plans go. I believe that one can only plan so far, that there are things we cannot know until we make moves, then we can make moves off the outcome of those moves. In other words, we need a process for developing our plans. But of this I am absolutely sure. Support structure has to be in place. And no one in the movement of the poor should be shunned due to higher education or lack thereof, income or lack thereof, or any of the other bullshit they use to divide us.
WPA-style jobs program!
So far, I’ve been talking about nuts and bolts. What about the political direction? So much of the poverty field is tied into church, welfare and charity groups, often beneficiaries of the local Democratic Party. Many may be organizable around a radical politic. Many may not. I believe that councils need to hold front and center the demand for a federal WPA-style jobs program. On that there can be no compromise. At the same time, there should be a two-track approach of demanding WPA jobs at the national level, while making demands and forming coalitions for day-to-day needs at the local level.
Getting off the dime
Where to start, though? I recently submitted a proposal to the organizers of the October 6 Coalition which reads in part:
For Building an Obamaville!
I was excited to read a diary by David Swanson in FireDogLake (FDL) Our Tahrir Square: DC’s Freedom Plaza on October 6th announcing “a plan to begin a people’s occupation of Washington, D.C., on October 6th, to build it into something larger on the 7th, 8th, and 9th, and TO NOT LEAVE UNTIL WE ARE SATISFIED.”
I was particularly struck by the fact that this was not to be a one-shot demo, but a drawn out occupation. It immediately brought to mind the 43,000 Bonus Marchers of 1932 who occupied a Hooverville, a tent city, for over a month before being driven out by the Army under Hoover’s orders. The imagery of their struggle is with us to this day.
If the organizers are truly planning a drawn-out siege, then there is an opportunity to pull together the demand to end our foreign adventures, and the demand for a WPA-style jobs program, into one consolidated protest and statement. We could create an Obamaville that could provide a staging area for prolonged protests, AND could provide shelter for poor and homeless people willing to join us. The statement would be powerful, highlighting the connection between these two vital demands, creating imagery evoking both the struggles against poverty of the 1930’s and the mass protests against the war in Vietnam of the 1960’s.
While the planned demos are not in themselves a project to organize the poor, if the demo organizers choose to incorporate this tent city plan into the overall organizing, working towards October 6 could provide a context for much of the preliminary work of organizing the poor and add to the coalition’s strength. I’ve talked about the necessity of support structure. At least in the short run, the demonstrations could provide some short-term support and bring together people who might begin to work out ways to take it beyond the event itself.
Supporting organizing the poor is not liberal do-gooderism. It is hardball necessity. If those suffering now the effects of the shredding of the safety net cannot speak for themselves (organization), then there is no floor for any of us. There is no way to organize resistance to the shredding of everything that holds us together.
Since some may find it in bad taste to quote Karl Marx, I give you U.S. patriot Benjamin Franklin: “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
[jeffroby’s note: organizers of the October 6 event never seriously responded to my proposal. However, subsequently, the forces of Occupy Wall Street have been aggressively working to fight for the poor, and the poor have been an important part of the Occupy forces.]
(Ed’s note: Occupy has been the brightest candle throughout all of this, but it has not since been duplicated. See Lessons from Occupy - http://www.newprogs.org/lessons_from_occupy Also poverty is getting increasingly worse and now taking significant chunks of the middle class. See Poverty is Getting Worse – http://www.newprogs.org/poverty_is_getting_worse Students who used to be free to follow idealistic causes are now facing overwhelming debt with few good job prospects. See Education – http://www.newprogs.org/education_under_the_democratic_republican_uniparty And yet there is still a deep apathy and unwillingness of more than a few to follow the clearly laid out beginnings of Jeff Roby’s plans.)
07/09/11 Dump Obama: a primary focus
Here we go again. The headlines blare that Obama is putting Social Security on the table (or chopping block) in his negotiations over raising the debt ceiling. The howls and yowls echo throughout the land. Jane Hamsher, in the Breaking Point, thunders:
What we’re watching is the death of the Democratic Party. Or, at least the Democratic Party as most of us have known it. The one that has taken its identity in the modern era from FDR and the New Deal, from Keynesianism and the social safety net … Any member of any party who participates in this effort does not deserve, and should not get, the support of anyone who values Social Security and cares about its preservation.
Hamsher’s repeated refrain: “call your member of Congress and tell them the romance is over: tell them that if Congress cuts Social Security benefits, you won’t vote for them.”
Adam Green of BoldProgressives.org boldly calls for us to sign the pledge:
“I’ll only donate or volunteer for Obama if he firmly opposes Social Security, Medicare, & Medicaid benefit cuts”
MoveOn unleashes a petition:
“Say no to a debt deal that sacrifices Social Security or Medicare so the rich and corporations don’t have to pay their fair share.”
As mealy-mouthed as you can get. (Ed’s note: Jane Hamsher is no friend of progressives. The year of a major election FDL barred several who were overly critical of Obama and removed all their writings from her website. Her mission seems to get trust from progressives during off election years so she could have credibility as her writers sheepdogged progressives back to the democratic fold with “lesser of two evils” “most important election ever” etc. during a presidential election. FDL has since closed and been replaced by “Shadowproof” which offers much less participation by ordinary people, preferring the lies of the main stream media. See The Powerless Press – http://www.newprogs.org/the_powerless_press )
Diaries abound on all sides shaking with outrage, competing for who can call Obama the nastiest things, who can most scathingly proclaim the corruption of the Democratic Party. But all these hissy fits fail to draw a single drop of blood. To the Democratic Party accountants who engineer their schemes, this is all just part of the cost of doing business. Already factored in.
The cutting edge, at this “breaking point,” is the P word, whether Obama is to be primaried.
Why do I consider this the cutting edge, why are calls to focus on congressional progressives so weak? Because when people talk about cutting donations and working for bold progressives, there is not much reaction from the Obamacrats. When you mention the P word, they start to howl. They see their vulnerability lies there, even if many of us do not.
So yes, there is the usual smattering of calls for Obama to be primaried, along the lines of “I sure hope somebody primaries the [choose 3] corporate reactionary traitor sellout running-dog-lackey Wall-Street-kiss-ass bastard.” And I give credit for that. But a better formulation would be “WE OURSELVES have to primary the etc., etc., etc.” including the dirty ballot access work that makes a primary challenger more than a publicity stunt. Perhaps I’m being harsh here, but at a “breaking point,” nothing less than harsh fills the bill. The passivity of even the Primary Obama forces is of course understandable. But what we require is a whole new understanding of how and why a primary campaign is conducted.
Waiting for Teddy
On a recent comment, some nabob of negativity argued that primarying Obama is off the table, since we don’t have a candidate comparable to Ted Kennedy when he challenged Jimmy Carter for the 1980 nomination. While perhaps extreme, the common attitude towards primaries is embodied in that comment. Allow me to deconstruct.
First of all, a politician is not a regular person. To run or not to run (as Hamlet put it) is not really an individual decision. When a politician decides to throw his or her hat into the ring, they bring along a motley collection of staff, consultants, donors, support organizations, and beneficiaries. (And most importantly, their loving spouses and offspring.) It would be extraordinary for a politician to risk the slings and arrows of a hostile media, sex scandals, and bad chicken dinners without the expectation that a good part of the above hangers-on would come along for the ride. So in 1980, Teddy was not just an ambitious politician, or even heroic politician, but was the representative of the organized constituencies — the old New Deal coalition — that Jimmy Carter and the Democratic Party had just begun to throw under the neo-liberal bus.
It’s not just that we have no Ted Kennedy today. It’s that the organized forces he once represented are broken, have been broken for decades, and what was once Ted Kennedy was dead long before his body was laid to rest. The illusion of life was maintained for decades, but the rancid stench of putrefaction was finally revealed to all with noses to smell when the entirety of organized liberalism saw its crusade for health care for all be transformed into a mandate that everyone had to buy coverage from the insurance barons. Whether they could afford it or not. And they proclaimed that a triumph.
I said that waiting for another Teddy was extreme. But it actually embodies the way most progressives view a primary challenge (let’s call it the Napoleonic — on a horse — approach). Some politician declares their candidacy, they bring along their own campaign organization with all the staff, consultants, donors, etc., included. Then progressives contemplate whether (or which) candidate is progressive enough, and jump aboard. But that model is hopelessly obsolete.
At least for progressives. So people toss out the names of Kucinich or Feingold, both fine fellows. But neither has that kind of base. Not necessarily due to any failing on their part, but because that kind of organized base does not exist. The very possibility of major liberal reform has died as the American empire enters its death throes, and the Democratic Party has become a tool whose main purpose is to accommodate the middle class to the meager pickings available to a dying empire, and the poor to destruction.
Any plan centered on trying to resurrect that dream is bad enough. Any plan based on waiting for that dream to just come waltzing in, well …
Metrics (no, not the Keanu Reeves movie)
Not as universal as the above, but pervasive enough, there is another paralyzing assumption: any progressive contender has to be a “serious” contender, has to have a reasonable chance of winning the nomination and, beyond that, winning the presidency. A merely symbolic candidate would only be crushed, and that would be disastrous. Disastrous why? Because the passive and demoralized would become more passive and demoralized?
Let’s come at this from a different direction. Let’s attack the state of passivity itself. To repeat two points mentioned above:
- the old New Deal coalition is dead. And nothing has emerged to take its place.
- the Democratic Party is nothing more than a corporate tool for managing war and austerity.
One obvious response to this is to declare a pox on the Democratic Party and go independent ever more. In fact, I rather support this for the general elections. But we still need to address the millions and millions of decent, progressive, poor and working people who remain within its clutches. Who, if there were an independent force speaking to their felt needs, would be unaware of its existence. Who, if aware of its existence, would not see it as having any impact on their lives. Any effectiveness. Not the traditional ORGANIZED base, but the currently UNORGANIZED base.
How do we reach them without being sucked down into oblivion in the Democratic Party tar pits? The media will certainly try to shut us out. We won’t have the big money needed for a full-scale TV blitz.
The primary provides the entrée. Get the signatures. Pay the filing fee. Make sure the paperwork is clean. There it is. The media ignores us? That becomes the story. They won’t let us into the debates? Getting into the debates becomes the fight, with our pickets outside the debate hall waving to the cameras. Third parties have fought this way for years. Oh ho! you exclaim. And what has it gotten them? I admit, not much.
But having these fights inside the Democratic Party has a very different dynamic. No cakewalk, to be sure, but different. The progressive challenger will still be “the other,” but also not “the other.” The party needs certain rules to simply manage its own affairs. Certainly, they manipulate them, they cheat like bandits and lie like dogs. But if they discard the rules, they discard too much of their own party. It’s not (yet) like the open warfare waged against third parties.
But, but, but … we’d still be crushed! Yeah? By what measure? How is progress to be defined? By the standards of those we would overthrow? Who define the standards so as to make us losers by definition?
Let’s try to make this a little less theoretical, and examine a few mechanics.
If we were to run a bare-bones primary operation, what would that entail? According to the Napoleonic method, the big politician rides their horse into the ring accompanied by their own operation (staff, etc.), and we climb aboard.
But if it were OUR operation (let me call it the Independent model)? (I am sidestepping the question of who “we” are today, but it is a much smaller number of people than progressives in the blogosphere everywhere in the universe. Let’s assume some kind of well-intentioned, relatively small but cohesive group.) What would we have to do?
- Get a good lawyer.
- Set up a bank account for the campaign.
- Have a candidate declare.
- File the appropriate paperwork with the FEC.
- Learn state ballot access requirements, including signatures, filing fees, and paperwork.
- Set up a website.
- Get a media/video expert.
Note that the above entails either having or gaining some high levels of expertise, and a high level of commitment. But it does not require at this stage a whole lot of people.
… and then …
With the above in place, the ballot access work begins. Let’s assume a state requiring 1,000 signatures and a $1,000 filing fee. (For other states, there is the issue of whether there is a primary or a party caucus, a different matter.) Have our lawyer check out the regulations. Exact wording of petition. Whether signatures have to be from a number of congressional districts (CD’s)? Do petitioners have to be state or CD residents? Petition period. If so, can an in-state witness validate the work of out-of-state petitioners? What paperwork is needed at submission of signatures?
$1,000 filing fee? Setting aside the campaign having any national fundraising capacity, how many could cough that up if they actually believed the future of America depended on it? Again, it’s a matter of commitment.
1,000 signatures? Better gather 1,500 to account for Mickey Mouse signatures, bad handwriting and other challenges. Team of three: 500 apiece, a modest 12 signatures per hour, takes 42 hours. A week off the day-job and the weekend. If national fundraising capacity were adequate, staff could be hired to do this, of course, but with committed volunteers, you get fewer signatures from Mickey and Donald Duck.
Then file! And do it right. You might have 20,000 signatures, but depending on the state and the attitude of the local party, one missing signature or one missing or improper document or one day late and it could all go down the tubes. This is why I listed getting a lawyer as #1. This is why the campaign should also look for lawyers on an ongoing basis, to be ready to handle multiple challenges around the country.
Then the campaign. That’s the fun part, and I won’t dwell on it. It’s there that people’s full creativity can be unleashed, where the blogosphere and Facebook can be flooded. Then the campaign junkies who live from campaign to campaign can do their thing.
[There have been various studies about the blogosphere, it’s effectiveness as a political tool. Many have debunked its most grandiose claims. But there is some consensus that, while the blogosphere is no substitute for “boots on the ground,” it can have a massive multiplier effect once those boots are on the ground, as I have been elaborating above.]
We might want to compare the respective merits of the Napoleonic model versus the Independent model of primary campaigns. The obvious advantage of the Napoleonic model is that an established politician has more of a campaign organization in place, and will probably get more votes, some easy publicity. But when the campaign is over, Napoleon takes their organization and goes home with it.
I should be clear. Our options are limited. Napoleon doesn’t even seem to be riding over the horizon — the fix is in. Napoleon would be crushed by the media and the party apparatus, in any event. All Napoleon would leave us with would be reinforced cynicism about the futility of resistance. And maybe some fond memories. Whether the number of votes is puny or large, no number on today’s horizon would transform the situation. Those at the top of the Democratic Party are committed to a murderous neo-liberalism.
My sole metric is whether we come out of this campaign with our own campaign organization, that can engage both primary and independent runs in the generals.
The strength of the Independent model is that the independents own it. Whether or not it can be held together until the next election is not to be assumed. But doing so is the task. Again, it all comes down to commitment. The blogosphere is filled with people with little commitment, not willing to do much work. One could call them lazy, especially if they don’t do what we want them to do, but that misses the point. People lack commitment because they have been betrayed so many times. They contribute on the basis of their sentiments, and I consider it to their credit that they give as much as they do on the basis of sentiment. But they hold back as well, because they don’t believe any given scheme can work.
So I am saying that the above plan CAN ACTUALLY WORK! As part of the broader inside/outside strategy that I have been trying to develop over the past year.
What is an independent?
Well, to ask the obvious, independent of what? It doesn’t reduce to whether the candidate wears the Democratic or Green or Progressive or union label. The question is whether a candidate or organization is independent of the corporate power elite. After all, there is a long history of independent parties which function as mere satellites of the so-called majors. Take New York’s Working Families Party (please!), which endorsed Andrew Cuomo who is now working to gut the unions and the social service budget there. Or the even-more-independent NY Independence Party which offers itself to whichever party puts in the highest bid.
At the same time, one CAN be an independent within the Democratic Party. Yes, that route is filled with traps. There is a transmission belt that sucks in our major Democrats. So Kucinich may be a great guy, with a truly independent heart. But his supporters? Maybe not so independent. And their followers? So it goes. As you rise within the Democratic machinery, you make more deals, exchanging principle for influence. I’m not naive about this. But if one’s goal is not the Holy Grail of taking over the Democratic Party, but to rip its guts out, then like-minded people can operate on that basis. With registered independents being the largest single voting bloc (and yes, progressive independents being a smaller sub-set of that), the party can no longer smirk, “You have no place to go.”
Run in the Democratic primaries, then run independent in the generals. That’s the plan. As individuals, they pick us off one-by-one. With organization, we can do it together.
One word on timeline. Some have talked about 2012 as some kind of final showdown. Those who don’t go independent in the generals this time around are to be written off. No. We independents have a lot to prove, to the public if not to ourselves. Here’s my thinking as far as it goes. I’ve outlined a bare-bones level of organization required for a serious primary run. We don’t have it yet. Napoleon may well wait till November before announcing and have enough to make most ballots. We don’t. For independents, yesterday isn’t soon enough to get our asses in gear. My goal would be to come out of the race with the organization I’ve delineated. Now, imagine the position we’d be in right now if that organization — that independent organization — already existed. Possibilities would multiply exponentially.
So by digging in now, we can have that in place for 2014, for the congressionals. And if we can repeat at the state level in 2014, we go into 2016 with boots on the ground in every state. Yeah, some might argue that we’ll all be dead by then. If you think that, make sure your passports are in order. For the rest of us, it’s a working plan.
12/09/2011 Dump Obama: we have nothing to lose
Battle lines are being drawn. Finally. The Obama tax cut deal was a betrayal too far. (Ed’s note: Sadly it was not a betrayal too far. It was just the beginning.) And now Dump Obama has become part of the national dialogue big time. First there were a few squeaks. Then columns by Michael Lerner Save Obama’s presidency by challenging him on the left, and Clarence Jones Time to Think the Unthinkable: A Democratic Primary Challenge To Obama’s Reelection, among others. On the New York Times front page, Matt Bai of the Times wrote a skeptical piece Murmurs of Primary Challenge to Obama (demoted from its original title Talk on the Left of a Primary Challenge), in which he tellingly concludes:
should the president’s progressive critics warm to the idea, it might not take a particularly credible primary challenge to weaken Mr. Obama’s chances for re-election. It might only take a challenge designed to do exactly that.
This was followed by the inevitable counter-attack, from the likes of Ed Kilgore and David Broder, plus any number of lesser lights, touting three points:
1. The tax cut deal was a masterful stroke — stimulating the economy and ensuring Obama’s re-election in 2012; and
2. No “serious” challenger would dare risk their credibility and prestige by entering the primaries, the ultimate proof being that they haven’t done so yet.
3. A primary challenge would only serve to harm the very Democratic Party that we all hold so dear.
Party operatives are showing up on the progressive blogs. [Here are a few giveaways when you meet them. They point out that Obama is Black (a guilt-tripping that was quite effective circa 1968, less so today). They refer to “our president.” And they love the phrase “get with the program.”]
Time for a fresh look
First let me make one thing absolutely clear so nobody has to waste excess keyboard energy. Nothing I do, think, infer, plan, gesticulate or condone is predicated on actually unseating Obama as the 2012 Democratic nominee or having a progressive defeat him in the general election. Got that? Nice if it happens, but not a precondition.
Okay. Now that Dump Obama has moved from the musings of a few of us fringe lefties to the mainstream, it’s beginning to take some shape. There are two main levels of division.
We’ve been fixating on this one for a while. Dem primary vs. 3rd party. Hard left programmatics vs. populist liberal. Electoral politics vs. overthrowing the system. Perfecting the welfare state vs. socialism. It’s been fun, and at times illuminating. With Dump Obama being little more than a gleam in some of our eyes, what else ya gonna talk about? But that has run its course. The arguments are out there, repeated endlessly, my fingers grow tired. At this point, I don’t think a lot of minds are going to be changed on the merits of our ideological arguments. We move onto the terrain of …
(2) organizational forces
Allow me to digress here.
I’ve been spared a lot of work by other diarists on FireDogLake, actually. Both Bill Eignor (You Want Better Choices? Better Start Working Now) and Rayne (The Angry Left: Rougher Roads, Steeper Challenges to Get Here have written excellent and truly challenging pieces on the mechanics of gaining power within the Democratic Party. I consider both important because — while I have some differences — they show the kind of disciplined, hard work traditionally necessary to have even a little bit of influence within the party.
For my purposes, they also illustrate how — in the absence of an independent anchor — principled radicals get absorbed into the Democratic Party machinery. You pay your dues, do the committee work, make the calls, knock on the doors, build personal relationships, become trusted as a loyal worker, become chair of this or delegate to that. The premise is that — as a committed progressive — you rise in the party and begin to have some influence, toughen up this resolution, lobby that legislation. Ultimately, if enough do this, you and others like you will transform the party.
Today, we see the agony of that path
Democrats at every level are aghast at this tax deal. They complain. They amend. They pass resolutions and sign petitions, and mutter vague threats. A few are beginning to talk primary — in the abstract — only to shudder and step back.
Good. They are to be applauded. But in the aggregate they are not to be trusted (which doesn’t mean there aren’t trustworthy individuals among them). If the big name doesn’t step forward, they will curse their fate but stand helpless before the Obama center-right juggernaut. Their positions, their friendships, their deals, all work to hold them in line. If there were a serious surge to primary Obama, they would — I believe — tentatively, perhaps even joyfully join it. But they will not lead it.
Who will lead it? The rabble, we who do not have power within the party, we who do not fear being shunned because we are not dependent on party approval. We who are foolish enough to believe you should do something simply because it is right.
But there is a problem here. The party old guard is better organized than we are. They are more disciplined. They have more money. They have the media. They have the comfort of official validation. Having more to lose, they fight with a fierce determination. They are organizationally smarter, oh yes they are! It’s like the imperial British redcoats standing in solid ranks cutting down masses of spear-throwing natives. Yes, we natives get restless from time to time, but a few well-aimed volleys settle the matter quickly.
We’ll go independent? Good. Gets us out of their hair. We’ll stay home? Makes it easier to say the electorate has turned right.
They have one big problem.
History is on our side.
This isn’t some comforting cosmic abstraction. After Obama was elected, some talked about political realignment, all excited. A long-lasting progressive majority, his election was only the beginning. We’ve got realignment, all right, but not realignment we can believe in. It’s an alliance of the Democratic Party centrists with the right and far right. The liberal majority of the Democratic Party are now labeled “fringe,” and are being cut loose. The tax deal fully embodies this. Some form of it will likely pass through an alliance of Obama, Blue Dogs, and Republicans.
The only alternatives are radical alternatives! WPA-style jobs program isn’t just some far-left scheme — it’s the only way this country will return to decent levels of unemployment. With the PERMANENT changes in the U.S. and world economy, only a full-scale recreation of a full-scale safety net will prevent millions and millions of Americans from being ground into the dirt, sick, homeless and starved. They talk about structural unemployment as though the answer were job-training programs. But the structural unemployment we face is one where millions and millions of jobs are just plain gone. NEVER to return, far beyond any conceivable re-training.
These millions of people are not the fringe. They are masses of the American people, and their plight casts a pall over every working American, every family considering their future, hoping to educate their kids, hoping against hope that they don’t get sick, hoping against hope that someday they’ll be able to live in a dignified retirement. The enormity of this is only beginning to strike home.
They are on the edge of having nothing to lose.
Yet they are cut adrift politically. Once the Democratic Party represented them, even if badly, even when it was in the minority. Now it makes no such pretense. Their needs are poison.
We the rabble, our disorganized hodge-podge of lefties and liberals and progressives and revolutionaries and ne’er-do-wells are their hope. We have to let that sink in.
What’s to be done?
The pundits are telling us that Dump Obama is irrational. Can’t win. Counter-productive. And by their rules, their boxes, their manipulations of outcomes, they are absolutely right and expect that they will always be absolutely right! I don’t give a flying fuck! Dump Obama sends the message that we are going to fight. And that establishes a new rationality. New rules. Our own.
So Dump Obama is beginning to go mainstream. There is a good likelihood now that there will be a primary campaign. Will a big name jump in, hoping to capitalize on our desperation and the political opening and the threat to those comfortable with the current state of affairs who are smart enough to see that Obama is bringing the entire party down? Maybe. Maybe not. Will a lesser figure jump in, someone with less to lose, maybe a Kucinich, maybe someone we’ve not heard of? I’d say there’s a good chance.
And what of our puny efforts here at FDL? Events are lurching out of control. If a major Democratic figure enters the race, they will hire established party operatives, the types whose greatest fear is that the left may do something embarrassing. Or that the left may gain an independent organizational foothold in the party, something they fear worse than losing, as they’ve proven many a time. If a minor Democratic figure enters, we’ll face the same problems on a lesser scale.
In any event, whoever primaries Obama will likely sell us out. I go into this with eyes wide open, you don’t have to warn me about being sold out. It comes with the territory.
But this is why our efforts are more important than ever. When that moment or moments arrive, we have to be there, ready to say no. Lose the primaries? Dig in organizationally. Learn how to play the game, as Rayne and Bill Eignor point out, but better. And why will we end up any better than generation after generation of idealists turned sellout? Because we can set up an independent anchor that liberals haven’t had since the trade union movement of the 30’s. And because the middle-of-the-road liberal options are no longer available.
It’s one thing for the system to buy people off when it has money. It gets harder when the system is broke. Progressives are still stunned that Obama isn’t making the customary gestures to mollify us, throw us a few bones and we’ll be good puppies. Instead, Obama and the punditocracy and the party regulars are telling us to get fucked. If there’s a double-dip recession, it will be our fault. We are being demonized. And I don’t just mean us fringies. I mean loyal Democrats who’ve believed in America all our lives.
So we lose the primaries? Go independent. Go independent and take our base, such as it is, with us. Independent politics is a larger force than in past days. It is an option. A Democratic Party breakaway leads to a different dynamic than the usual ideologically driven 3rd party. It can become a genuinely populist party, it can embody the needs of the abandoned American people. It can be big. And even a whiff of this is a powerful force. It gives us real leverage.
Some might not have the stomach for this kind of organizational infighting, been burned too many times, too many things they can’t swallow. No problem. We can’t take the Democratic base independent if there’s no independent anchor. There has to be a significant independent candidate. The opportunity is greater than ever, but I see remarkably little on that front. Get the independent track in motion.
The Democratic Party is in flux. It is right now in a state of shock. Can’t believe what Obama’s done to them. Can’t believe the dreams of 2008 were shattered so quickly. Progressives can fight or be destroyed. Established Democrats are riding the fence, threatened but still temporarily comfortable. We want them, but we can’t count on them.
So the leadership will have to come from those who have nothing to lose.
2-Corporate Overreach - http://www.newprogs.org/corporate_overreach
4-Economic Graphs and Videos – http://www.newprogs.org/economic_graphs
6-Election Reform Is Needed - http://www.newprogs.org/election_reform_is_needed
7-The Environment - http://www.newprogs.org/the_environment_under_the_democratic_republican_uniparty
9-Our Crumbling Infrastructure - http://www.newprogs.org/our_crumbling_infrastructure
11-Poverty is Getting Worse – http://www.newprogs.org/poverty_is_getting_worse
12-The Powerless Press – http://www.newprogs.org/the_powerless_press
13-Diminishing Transparency - http://www.newprogs.org/transparency_under_the_democratic_republican_uniparty
14-Continuous Wars – http://www.newprogs.org/wars_under_the_democratic_republican_uniparty
15-The War on Whistleblowers – http://www.newprogs.org/whistleblowers_under_the_democratic_republican_uniparty
16-Widespread Police Misconduct and an Expanding Prison Population - http://www.newprogs.org/massive_police_misconduct
17- Lessons from Occupy - http://www.newprogs.org/lessons_from_occupy
18--Fighting Back - http://www.newprogs.org/fighting_back
19-New Hope - http://www.newprogs.org/new_hope
20-What Progressives Do at http://www.newprogs.org/learning_from_history_what_progressives_do
21-Our Founder’s Story at http://www.newprogs.org/our_founder_s_story
23-Don’t Fall for Ron Paul - http://www.newprogs.org/don_t_fall_for_ron_paul
24-Grayson, Kucinich, Warren, and the Road to Hell
27- Organizing? What Organizing?!? - http://www.newprogs.org/organizing_what_organizing
28- Cautionary Tales - http://www.newprogs.org/cautionary_tales
29-Mass Consciousness and its disconnects - http://www.newprogs.org/mass_consciousness_and_its_discontents
30-So You Say You Want a Political Revolution - http://www.newprogs.org/so_you_say_you_want_a_political_revolution