You Only Get What You’re Organized to Take!

An Interview with Willie Baptist

by John Wessel-McCoy

Political cartoon from the 1968 Poor People's Campaign, showing poor people of different races walking together.
What worries me, senator, is that they’re getting into step.

Willie Baptist and John Wessel-McCoy are Co-Coordinators of Poverty Scholarship and Leadership Development at the Kairos Center. *  The following article is a revised version of an interview first produced in June 2009 entitled, It’s Not Enough to Be Angry, published in Organizing Upgrade.  

John Wessel-McCoy: In your experience of the poor organizing the poor, where do we begin?  

Willie Baptist: Like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. pointed out, “”The prescription for the cure rests with the accurate diagnosis of the disease.”

Any approach to social change, organizing and leadership development has to be based on an accurate assessment of the situation, on an accurate analysis of the problem you aim to solve.  If you have one assessment or a certain diagnosis of the disease to be cured, you’re going to have a particular prescription and a particular approach to the solution. Either we’re dealing with a teddy bear or we’re dealing with a grizzly bear, and either estimate will determine a different set of tactics and correspondently a different organizing approach.  If you think you’re dealing with a teddy bear and in reality it’s a grizzly bear coming at you, you’re going to be in trouble. So an exact estimate of the situation has to be where you begin. This involves a tremendous amount of intellectual work to effectively and efficiently guide the practical work of particularly the poor organizing the poor.

In this respect I’ve learned some important lessons from my participation during the late 1980s and early 1990s in the national organizing drive of the National Union of the Homeless. For instance, one of the local organizing campaigns we conducted as part of that national drive took place in the Detroit Metropolitan area. In that campaign we helped establish a local branch of the Homeless Union. Like most other major cities the growth of homelessness in Detroit at that time became very pronounced devastating a growing number of families. Many of the homeless we organized were former autoworkers that once had stable middle-income jobs. As you know auto production is the major industry in the area employing a large proportion of the workforce enjoying the so-called “middle class” status. However, the computerization and automation of auto production like in other industries resulted in huge job losses multiplying the homeless population. Former members of the United Automobile Workers union became members of the Homeless Union. What we are witnessing throughout the entire global economy is a gigantic and unprecedented technological revolution that is eliminating sources of income, places of work, and also dislocating whole communities.  Today’s societies are undergoing tremendous changes.  So if you organize in ways that served the past under circumstances that are now undergoing tremendous change, then your tactics and organizing approach are not going to fit the new situation. It’s like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

I don’t think you would have had the formulation of certain social theories such as Marxism or industrial unionism if they were not shaped by the tremendous technological changes that were taking place back during the latter 18th century, the 19th and early 20th century.   Before the Industrial Revolution, you had feudal agricultural societies that dictated an approach towards organizing different from when the industrial revolutions took place.  Changes in our times are analogous to those changes, but I think it’s on a scale more comprehensive and has a rapidity much greater than ever before.  Deindustrialization alongside of the growth of urban populations globally is historically unprecedented. I think we’re dealing with a situation more like a hungry grizzly bear than a contented teddy bear, because there are massive devastations and dislocations happening in communities today, and I think the current crisis punctuates this problem.  Our organizing has to take this new reality into account.

JW: In the effort to unite and organize the poor and dispossessed, what are the things we should avoid?

WB: Firstly, we must be seriously aware of one of the main strategic lessons of history, particularly of US history. That lesson is the formidable message from the ruling class (or the ‘Powers That Be’) warning, “Don’t unite the bottom! That is don’t organize those at the bottom of the economic latter of society, that is poor and property-less masses.” In other words, uniting and organizing the poor and dispossessed posed an existential political threat to the ruling class of the propertied, rich and powerful. Their class economic interests, and all of their political and military strategies, all of their domestic and global policies are predicated on the maintenance, management and manipulation of the disunity and animosity among the bottom classes and strata. And therefore the Powers That Be will resort to any and all means necessary to defeat and destroy any attempt that pose this threat. This is the lesson of the demise of the National Negro Labor Council and the Black Panther Party, the isolation of Paul Robinson and W. E. B. Du Bois, and the execution of the abolitionist John Brown and Dr. MLK.

In this connection, you can see why the ruling class has continued to fund and reinforce the old “progressive”, anarcho-syndicalist and populist ideas promoted by large parts of the “Left” as specifically expressed in the 1930s trade union organizing and in the 1960s Saul Alinskyist community organizing. The latter of which was heavily shaped by the continued influences of the past US Civil Rights Movement and world’s National Liberation Movements of what have been called the “Third World.” There’s a saying that ‘most generals are defeated because they are always fighting the last war.’  That is what we’re finding in the “Left” today.  We’re dealing with a totally new situation.  In this new day you must do new things in a new way.

In 2008, the food riots that took place in more than 30 countries globally had the immediacy that the so-called Watts riots had domestically in the 1960s.  Our approach today has to reflect and immediately incorporate these new global elements, elements that exerted influence indirectly in 1930s and 1960s.  On the “Left,” there’s a tendency to regard the different issues as separate categories, different fronts of struggle as none related battles – to put them in different silos – and approach them from the perspective of solely organizing this ethnic community or unionizing only this or that trade of workers, mobilizing women as a separate group, or organizing only in this locality or that locality. Although organizing in the different fronts of struggle is very important, the perspective in approaching them has to change given the changed situation.  The problems today are problems that revolve around and are connected to the growing concentration of wealth on a global level on the one hand, and the spreading of poverty on a global level on the other. Our organizing strategy and tactics have to be based on a comprehensive and ongoing assessment of this fundamental polarization that defines our times. No issue or injustice can be resolve unless it is connected to a domestic and global mass movement strategically directed ultimately against as exploitative and oppressive system that has domestic and global dimensions and resources. This understanding is pivotal because to limit your perspective obscuring the fundamental problem and it’s solution is to ultimately reduce your effort to merely leveraging pity, not power.  At most, this results in sort of a “militant do-gooderism” or charity paraded as ”social justice” or empty “progressivism.” You might be granted a lot of corporate funding for efforts that break off only the leaves and branches of the problem leaving its roots untouched, only to have the leaves and branches grow back in more dangerous and fascistic forms.

JW: Willie, I often hear you quote from Michigan Welfare Rights Organization’s slogan, “You only get what you’re organized to take.”  Speak a little bit more about that slogan.

WB: As Dr. King once pointed out in his speech honoring W.E.B. Du Bois,

“History has taught…  it is not enough for people to be angry.  The supreme task is to organize and unite people so that their anger becomes a transforming.”

Part of an accurate estimate of the social problems we face involves power relationships. In the National Union of the Homeless we coined the slogan, “Power grows from organization . . . Freedom is never given. It must be taken. And therefore you only get what you are organized to take!” All of history – US and world history – confirms this statement. Are you able to generate a critical mass of power to counter the existing power relationships to make change?  We’ve got to be real about that. Otherwise we’re playing games. As Malcolm X once stated, “power only respects power . . . power never takes a step back except in the face of more power.”

The Powers That Be, meaning big capital today, owns and therefore controls the economy, that is, the basic livelihood of society domestically and globally. It also holds state power, that is, the apparatuses of organized force and violence, and is therefore the ruling class. At these initial stages of the development of our fledgling social struggles we the poor and dispossessed cannot out-money, out-might, nor out-media this ruling class. However we can outmaneuver them it we deeply understand the steps that have to be taken, the stages we have to go through to build up the only source of power we have, that is, the unity and organization of our overwhelming numbers led by this knowledge. These numbers start off small before building up to the critical mass necessary for the political and economic emancipation of all of the dispossessed. To obtain political power requires a political strategy that enables us to outfight by outsmarting our class enemy. Political strategy is essentially about the concentration and focus of all efforts and resources on the completing each stage of the development of a social movement. History teaches that the first stage has to be the identification, development, and uniting of the leaders emerging from the struggles of the class of the property-less and powerless.

JW: Talk more about what you mean when you say “building up power.”  The word “power” gets used a lot, but people mean different things.

WB: A lot of the “Left” tends to indeed avoid this question of power, but you can’t get away from it.  One of the problems we’ve had in American history is that, although there have been a lot of social movements over time, they have been basically two types of social movements. One, dealing with power changes: shifting power relationships, a social-economic group or section of a class out of power taking power. Here I’m not talking about the regular electoral changes in government administrative and legislative offices. And the other type of movement generates a tremendous amount of activity but ultimately results in reinforcing the position of major social elements in existing power relationships by social reform.  They allowed for a modification or an adjustment of existing power relations, not a change in those power relations.

For example, the Anti-Slavery Movement, including the Civil War, resulted in power changes in terms of the slavocracy, slave capital, being taken out of power and the Northern industrial classes through social reconstruction being put into power.  Or the American Revolution: the Tory elements within the colonies connected to the British Crown were in power.  And what happened as a consequence of that struggle was that you had a change of places in terms of power relationships.  But most of the other major struggles – the Women’s Suffrage Movement, the industrial movements of the 30s, the Civil Rights Movement – these movements were reform movements, but they didn’t result in power changes.  We have to look at history and see what we can learn from movements for power as well as what we can learn from reform movements.  The problem is that there has been very little study of US history with regard to understanding the difference between these two types of social movements and social changes.

Today, again, we are confronted with the question: Are we dealing with a teddy bear or are we dealing with a grizzly bear?  Are we dealing with a fundamentally reform movement or are we dealing with a transformation movement?  My experience and the experiences of others I’ve been involved with over the last forty years – in my study of American history and world history – suggest we’re dealing fundamentally with a problem of power.  That raises a question of how you generate a critical mass that’s strong enough to take power.

Again, the only thing that the impoverished and oppressed classes have at their disposal is their numbers.  They only enter in the scale of power struggle if those numbers are organized and are led by knowledge or an understanding of what they’re up against. The influences of industrial union organizing and of community organizing – Saul Alinsky and some of the Civil Rights organizing – have left us very ignorant on the problems of power.  Power grows from organizing, but how you organize – your approach to organizing under different circumstances – is something that’s very critical.

JW: You talk about increasing polarization.  It’d be hard for anyone to deny such a polarization is happening now.  In a time such as ours, with all the different social forces at play, can you talk about leadership?  Who – and not just talking about individual leaders – might provide leadership towards a better world?

WB: In history, different periods were defined by major social polarities.  And the class forces or elements of class forces that were most dislocated or most affected by that problem had to be organized and placed at the forefront in order for that problem to be brought to a just solution.  The struggle against the British Crown in this country had to be led by the colonists, because they were the ones who were immediately affected.  There was opposition to the British Crown coming from Spain, from France, even from within the United Kingdom.  And these forces played a role in the struggle against the British Crown.  But it was the directly oppressed colonists in that particular period that had to be at the forefront – that had to exhibit initiative – to actually galvanize and bring those other forces into play.  The French support of that struggle was very important, but it was all predicated on the fight – and the military and political organization of the fight – by the American colonists themselves.

The overall struggle against slavery in this country had to be led by the struggle of those forces oppressed by the slavocracy, that is, the slaves of course, but also the industrial classes of the North. These most adversely affected social forces had to find some organizational expressions and thereby place their needs and demands at the forefront in order for that struggle to be brought to a successful conclusion.  Take the struggle for women’s suffrage.  Can you imagine a struggle for women’s suffrage led by men?  Those forces most affected by the problem have to be at the forefront. Only they are the ones who know when their pain is relieved.

In organizing today around the issues of poverty and the issues of extreme wealth concentrated in a few hands, to resolve this problem, social hegemonic leadership of broad social movement must come from that segment of the population that is the most directly affected, that is, the poor and dispossessed masses.  Our organizing and developing leaders today must first focus on uniting this segment. This must be the only basis of developing and uniting revolutionary leaders.

JW: Organizing on this scale comes down to uniting people who have, for most of this country’s history, not been able to unite for a number of reasons.  If this is the central question, it’s a hell of a task.  If it were easy, we would have done it already, right?

WB: Part of the problem of power in this country – a central aspect of the problem – is the relationship between color and class. The history of slavery, the slaughter of the Native Americans – these things have impacted American society all the way down to today and have embedded the color factor deeply in the thinking of the American people. You disregard this question at your own peril. But how you pose it is very important.  The class position of the poor and the dispossessed in the struggle to end poverty is very crucial, because what the poor show in their social and economic position is that ultimately the color question is inseparably tied to the class question. And then not only is it tied to the class question, but that the color question ultimately is or revolves around the question of class, that is the problem of the concentration and control of wealth and power.

The tendency has been to separate these issues because the prevailing influence around the issue of race, for example, has been the kind of petit bourgeois, “middle-class” kind of conception that is closely allied with the upper classes.  This conception says: “The economy?  I have no problem with the economy.  Even with the current crisis, I have no problems with the fundamentals of the capitalist class structured economy.”  Therefore, you can discuss the problems of race separate from the problems of whether I eat or not, have a house or not, do I have the power necessary to at least have my basic necessities secured or not.  From the standpoint of the economically exploited and excluded, I can’t discuss the questions of whether or not we’re going to be able to resolve the problems of color or resolve the inequities of gender and all of the other ills in society disconnected from the questions of class and power.

I think this is where Martin Luther King in the last years of his life offers a bridge in terms of getting people to understand the inseparability of these things.  He pointed at the inseparability of the three major evils: of unjust foreign policy in terms of the global situation and how it is tied to race relations and how race relations are inseparably tied to the problem of economic exploitation and poverty. You can’t deal with one without dealing with the other.  If we orient ourselves on the basis of those at the bottom, we’re going to tend to see the inseparability of these questions in reality.

There’s this poster that I saw on one of my trips from Philadelphia to Atlanta to see my daughter. There’s this billboard put up by the furniture industry in South Carolina.  And it references a very common slogan put out in our country that I think influences the “Left,” that I think influences the whole of society. It said: “Let the sons and daughters of the former slaveholders unite with the sons and daughters of the former slaves.” Now what’s critical about that formulation is that they leave out the fact that most whites in the South were not slaveholders. They were mostly poor and working-class whites.

Left out of most discussions of history is this formula of power that W.E.B. Du Bois talked about that pitted the poor non-whites against the poor whites.  Even today, when we are discussing the need of people of color to unite, it’s usually done in a way to leave out the strategic necessity of finding ways of uniting with poor whites to ensure real emancipation from poverty and all forms of human misery.  As Du Bois suggested and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. directly pointed out in his 1967-68 Poor People’s Campaign, this can and must be the starting point in building the necessary critical mass to move power relations in this country of 300 million. And historically that has been a stumbling block in terms of any kind of struggle for power in this country.

When you consider the power relationships as expressed in the composition of the civil bureaucracy and government jobs on all levels – municipal, state, and federal – or you consider the military and police forces, you’re talking about mostly white folks. This is also true of the key corporate jobs in the “commanding heights” of the economy, i.e., the auto industry, housing, steel, energy, etc. A growing number of these strategically positioned employees, their relatives and communities are beginning to have difficult times. Poverty is increasing among whites at a faster rate than among non-whites, especially resulting from the current crisis with the dismantling of the so-called “middle class.” That is why we are currently witnessing definite efforts of the ruling class to consolidate and shore up everywhere possible at least a sector of the middle strata as the social base of its power structure. These efforts include the carrying out in the United States and globally policies of accelerated “gentrification” in the major cities.

JW: You’ve just brought W.E.B. Du Bois up again, and in relationship to Dr. King and his concept of the triplet evils.  We often talk about how Du Bois, especially in his Black Reconstruction, presented the fundamental question – the disunity of the poor and dispossessed – and Dr. King, in his motion towards the Poor People’s Campaign, suggested the fundamental answer.  Can you talk more about how a united force of the poor might move the whole nation?

WB: Given these current conditions, the analysis and conclusions Dr. King put forth in his 1967 The Trumpet of Conscience are especially prescient,

“The dispossessed of this nation — the poor, both white and Negro — live in a cruelly unjust society. They must organize a revolution against the injustice, not against the lives of the persons who are their fellow citizens, but against the structures through which the society is refusing to take means which have been called for, and which are at hand, to lift the load of poverty. There are millions of poor people in this country who have very little, or even nothing, to lose. If they can be helped to take action together, they will do so with a freedom and a power that will be a new and unsettling force in our complacent national life…”

Dr. King is talking about moving the masses of the people in the U.S. He is talking about winning a large section of the middle-income strata, the social base of political power and stability in this capitalist society. This is a real pivotal problem of power. Aristotle once stated, and this has been more than corroborated by world history, that “Where the middle class is large, there are least likely to be factions and dissension.” Powers That Be understand this question and see the real political threat posed by the dismantling of the so called “middle class by the continuing economic crisis combined with the potential of the poor uniting as a powerful organized social force capable of unsettling the political complacency and compliance of the increasingly economically shaken middle strata. Today we are confronted with great opportunities and great dangers with regard to problems of political influence and power relations than have rarely happened in American history. Yet we leave these opportunities for the fascists to win sections of the poor and working class whites.

W.E.B. Du Bois pointed out this problem of power in his Black Reconstruction, where he talks about how the political situation of slavery in the South was different from slavery in the Caribbean and South America. There, the opposition among the slaves tended to have a much wider and more of a mass character. That even culminated in the Haitian Revolution, which is the only actual slave-led uprising to successfully take the slavocracy out of power. You had this massive uprising in the Caribbean and South American slavery, but in America – in the Southern United States – you had smaller resistance in the forms of runaway slaves and preempted slave rebellions. Du Bois pointed out very clearly that at its height in the Southern United States, you had something like four million black slaves, but at the same time, right alongside the black slaves, you had something like five million poor whites.  You didn’t have that kind of demographics in Haiti where enslaved blacks outnumbered whites by 12 to one.

The poor whites in southern United States were plentiful. While there were at height of American slavery 4 million black slaves, there were 5 millions poor southern whites. They were the social base for what served as the police forces then, this included the slave drivers and slave patrols. The ruling slaveholders were able to use these two sections of the bottom against each other.  And with the accumulation of wealth from the brutal exploitation of black slaves, the powers that be controlled the poor whites, and they employed poor whites to control the poor blacks.  This formula of plantation power politics is what we have been dealing with in the US all the way up to this day.  For instance, we can see how this racial political formula is being effectively employed to control and oppress immigrant workers. For us to not completely appreciate power relationships of class rule is to our detriment and to the peril of the struggle.

You see this lack of appreciation in most discussions of the accelerated gentrification and the growth of global cities today.  The tendency is to limit the discussions as to the whole complexity of these processes by only seeing what is perceived as simply white folks coming in and displacing poor peoples of color.  You don’t see the whole class question. You don’t see that the people coming in are not poor whites, because poor whites can’t afford to come in. Or you don’t see communities like poor multiracial Kensington in Philadelphia, PA that are proliferating throughout the country, where you have an equality of poverty developing. I’ve gone to places within Kensington and the neighborhoods around it where we’d go into these homes, and you’d see homeless families – poor whites – who are stacked up in the housing; where you’d have the holes in the roof, holes in the ceilings, holes in the floor, living under horrible conditions.  Certainly the blacks in the community of Mount Airy, for example, where the petit professionals live, have better homes and far better living standards than these poor whites in Kensington and neighboring Fishtown.  And the key political question is: Do poor blacks in Kensington have more in common with poor whites in Kensington, or do they have more in common with former Merrill Lynch CEO, multi-millionaire Stanley O’Neil or with Colin Powell or Condoleezza Rice or other upper class blacks folks?  No, they have absolutely nothing in common with these black folks and everything in common with poor whites.

In fact, I think that speaks to a dangerous kind of racist exceptionalism that says you can have class differentiation among whites but it doesn’t exist as a factor among people of color.  And no, the upper class blacks are not puppets or modern “Uncle Toms.” Despite their adroit use of racial colloquialisms, they are quite class conscious of their integration into the ruling capitalist class and bent on intelligently and steadfastly defending their class interests like any other of their capitalist brothers and sisters. Of course, the questions of class factors in majorly in terms of how the political dynamics are played out – in terms of the prevailing and historically evolved formula of power in this country, that is, the cruel and shrewd manipulations of the color divisions within the bottom class.  And I think this persistent aspect of power relationships in the US has to be taken into account if we’re going to have the tactics and the organizing approach that really brings about social change.  Otherwise, it ultimately comes to pity for poor folks – especially poor nonwhite folks who are down and out and that people should feel guilty about.  Well, people don’t feel guilty about that especially when they are beginning to hurt from increasing class exploitation and dislocations.  Historically and politically, we have to have them understand how their oppression is tied to your oppression, how their exploitation is tied to your exploitation.

Your arm is cut off and my finger is cut off. A cut-off finger is certainly less than a cut-off arm, but it still hurts. If we don’t link your hurt with my hurt but keep comparing whose injury is worse, we’re not going to be able to unite the critical mass necessary to move the existing power relationships. Somehow we’ve got to solve this formula of power described by Du Bois if we’re going to succeed.

The development of leaders with a proper grasp of social theory and political strategy allows for a deeper grasp of the big picture so we don’t become a pawn to a greater power game.  You can see the Left – the so-called “Left” – falling into that trap where the tendency, because of the influence of the recent Civil Rights Movement and the National Liberation Movements is for the Left to gravitate and hover around the inner cities and people of color exclusively.  Whereas the Right – the so-called “Right” – gravitates and hovers around poor whites.  Therefore the bigger picture is that both the “Left” and the “Right” are manipulated by the powers that be.  And they’re continuing to play out a game W.E.B. Du Bois described as beginning with the origins of this country.

JW: You reference Dr. King a lot, especially drawing from his last years, when he launched the Poor People’s Campaign.  That campaign in his view was about uniting and organizing the poor and dispossessed across color lines and other lines of division.  What are the main lessons do you draw from his last years?

WB: One thing that’s very crucial in this period is the role of education and consciousness-raising.  What I’ve learned in my experiences in organizing is that building socio-political movement is about more than simply mobilizing bodies.  It’s essentially about moving minds and hearts.  And education is central, especially in an information age.  The technological revolution I alluded to earlier has created this ability to impact people’s worldviews that ultimately influences people’s political wills, which is what we’re trying to get at.  Today, unlike any other period, these influences work like a 24/7 Netwaragainst the poor as the first line of attack against all of us.

The negative narratives of the 24/7 Netwar against the poor have deeply embedded stereotypes and misconceived notions of the poor, This war bombarded the public mental terrain with lies that essentially said the poor are poor because of their own indiscretion and laziness and not because of the inhumane poverty-producing economic system of capitalist class exploitation. Like with oppressive systems’ justifying negative narratives in history this war of ideas and ongoing attacks has invested in the poor a countering ideological power when they are united and organized in sustain and articulate campaigns of dramatic protests. This would be much like the powerful ideological and political impact of the protracted rebellion of the runaway poor slaves of the Underground Railroad. Against Dr. King was prescient when he stated,

If they [the poor, white and nonwhite] can be helped to take action together, they will do so with a freedom and a power that will be a new and unsettling force in our complacent national life…”

In looking at the way you fight today as opposed to how we fought yesterday, the question of the relationship of education to organizing is more intimate and integral.  You’ve got to talk as you walk.  You’ve got to teach as you fight.  You’ve got to learn as you lead. In other words, we’re talking about a political education that is held both in the classroom and in the class struggles, online and offline.  These things are inseparable to the problem of organizing, and I think the Saul Alinskyist influence and some of the trade unionist influence and even standard community organizing has separated those questions let alone not making political education central to the kind of organizing needed today.  These approaches tend to de-emphasize the importance of education and thus miss out on the opportunity of using the daily struggles as a school to elevate consciousness particularly in terms of leadership development.

Part of that education is recognition of lessons from history.  The Powers That Be have done a great disservice with regards to the philosophy and general curriculum of education in this country.  They’ve left out whole periods of history and obscured certain periods of history that have direct bearing on what we are trying to do today.  The experience of Martin Luther King in the last period of his life is obscured.  It is something that is pushed under the rug.  Clearly up until a certain point in his development, he was a leader in the Civil Rights Movement that was focused on de jure racial apartheid in this country.  But at a certain point towards the end of his life, he began to recognize that – even though they were able to get the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed – the black masses who were succumbing to economic exploitation couldn’t benefit from the results of the Civil Rights Movement. This was partly expressed in the several hundreds of ghetto uprisings that broke out all over the country during last half of the 1960s due inhumane living conditions and concentrated police repression.  Reflecting on these mass outbreaks of the impoverished ghettoes, Dr. King pointed out: What good is it to be able to go into a restaurant now since they’ve taken down the “whites only” sign if you can’t afford a hamburger?  Today you don’t have the “whites only” sign in the front window of restaurants.  You have another sign.  It’s the menu, and the menu has the different items and their costs.  And if you can’t afford what’s on that menu, I don’t care what color you are; there’s no need for you to go in there.

This is a very significant development because it offers us the opportunity to move American thinking in a way that focuses on power shifts and social change.  But we’ve got to grapple with this reality.  Martin Luther King said, “It didn’t take a penny to integrate lunch counters in this country” (that is, to defeat de jure segregation). But when we talk about ending poverty, to paraphrase him, you’re talking about a whole reconstruction of “economic and political power” relationships.  He recognized that.  And the Powers That Be saw that not only did he recognize that, but that he began to utilize his great international prestige to take actions that were a real political threat to them and their domestic and foreign policies. That’s why he was killed; that was proven by the virtual media blackout of the 1999 MLK Assassination Trial in Memphis, Tennessee.

People should look at the transcripts of the testimonies of this historic trial where they proved that MLK’s proposals threatened the powers that be.  The evidence showed that the much-publicized theory – that a lone fanatical white racist killed MLK – was false, that this was the big lie spread by the FBI because they knew public opinion would be prone to believe it at the time. Indeed his murder involved the complicity of elements from all levels of government and intelligence services. It says a lot in terms of lessons for us today.  How do we resolve this fundamental problem of power?  How do you unite the dispossessed – the bottom – in order to turn things upside down in terms of resolving the problems of homelessness, healthcare, and all of these problems that are manifestations of this basic problem: the polarity between the concentration of wealth on one hand and the spread of poverty on the other?

JW: Lastly, you mention about the need for leaders who are organizers and teachers.  What are the qualities of leadership that are needed to do this work?

WB: When we talk about really developing a successful movement, there has to be an advanced theoretical and intellectual development to the movement.  It has to be an engaged intellectualism.  This is something that is indispensable, and this is where the education and consciousness-raising element is critical.  Theory is basically the summary of historical experience.  It’s a means to take the general lessons of history as a way to guide your analysis, so you don’t find yourself bumping your head against walls that other people before you have bumped their heads against.  Yet we have in our culture and mindset an anti-theory, anti-intellectual approach especially when it comes to social struggle.  Now, this anti-intellectualism is not coming from the poor and dispossessed.  It’s coming from the intellectuals.  In fact the whole anti-theory philosophy of pragmatism came out of Harvard. It came out of people thinking through a philosophy that would divert attention and be an apology for the economic and political status quo.  And it still has influence today as expressed in its most recent variants such as “poststructuralism” and “postmodernism.”  It has the effect of having people not see the importance of taking the lessons of history and the lessons of experience in terms of theory and using them to guide our analysis and actions. This is something that is a real disservice, because – even though there’s reference to theory on the Left – a large part of the anti-intellectualism comes from the Left.  It doesn’t come from poor folks or people who are trying to figure out what in the hell is happening to them.  They’re hungry for analysis of why it is that they are poor and who benefits from it and what their strategy is and how we counter their strategy with a strategy.  These are the basic yearnings of those who are in a position of pain and suffering every day.

We need advanced theory that enables a kind of organizing that allows us to match our sophistication with the sophistication of the strategists, ideologists, and theologians of the present “powers and principalities.”  You can’t meet sophistication just with sentimentalism.  There has to be an engaged intellectualism – an engaged scholarship – to successfully guide our thinking and fighting.  If we don’t outsmart the enemy, there’s no way we’re going to outfight them.

Again, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his 1967 book, Where Do We Go From Here?, pointed out,

Deeds uninformed by educated thought can take false directions. When we go into action and confront our adversaries, we must be as armed with knowledge as they. Our policies should have the strength of deep analysis beneath them to be able to challenge the clever sophistries of our opponents.”

If we’re going to go forward, we’ve got to resolve this problem of education and theory.  The important thing that I’ve learned in my political life was that the major defeats and mistakes were largely a result of a lack of a historical perspective that comes from theory, a lack of understanding of political economy that comes from theory, a lack of leadership development that comes from theoretical development.

And not having leaders – a core of leaders – who are connected to the struggles of the poor and dispossessed, who are committed, who are competent, and who are clear in terms of their analytical approach is problematic in terms of your ability to sustain an effort, to stick and stay the course, to go up against the sophistication of the forces we’re dealing with.  What I’ve learned most is that the first stage in any kind of organizing is how you identify and develop those leaders that emerge in those struggles, how you use those struggles to identify leaders and unite them into a guiding intellectual force that can then organize the movement.  They have to have the sophistication that matches the sophistication of the powers that be.

I don’t think that we understand what we’re up against.  The forces we’re up against, on the one hand, don’t give a damn about us.  They subject masses of people throughout the world to the most excruciating horrors.  You think they’re not prepared to do that to us here in the United States?  In fact, they are doing this to an increasing number of us right at this moment. Look at growing ranks of the homeless and rising death tolls due to poverty in this the richest country in the world. Certainly the history of people of color suggests that they are prepared to do dirty to anybody for dominance and the dollar.  Still broad sections of the people cannot believe that the people we’re up against are people who are very fascistic and are prepared to sweep us under the rug, throw us off the cliff and have us to live out the most horrible existence.  These people don’t give a damn about us.  You’ve got to understand that.  That’s what we’re up against.

At the same time, we must respect them, which means to study to know them and keep up with their strategic thinking and moves.  They are the Powers That Be, and they are presently the most organized. They have their chambers of commerce and the different trade associations and most importantly, they have very sophisticated and leading network of “think-tanks”: the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), the Rand Corporation, the Carnegie Endowment, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and other such groupings.  The Carnegie foundation is now organized as the first global think-tank. The CFR has recently set up the Council of Councils, which consists of similar think-tanks and policy formulating group like itself from many of the other major countries. These powerfully influential think tanks study the daily developments around the world; they study a problem before it becomes an issue.  This is a tremendous opposition that we face. We’ve got to know our enemy and strive to know what they know. For if we only know ABC and they know A to Z then we stand to be outmaneuvered and manipulated.  Our organizing strategy and tactics must be and can be developed directly in opposition to theirs.

But a lot of organizing makes general references to capitalism and the oppression of people of color at the hands of white folks or something like that, and not proceeding from an examination of what and who we are really dealing with.  Leadership development and the theoretical development that undergirds that leadership development has to take those kinds of things into account if we’re going to proceed effectively, if we are going to organize an independent mass socio-political movement that can move the issues that affect us today.

The history of struggles of the poor and dispossessed classes — world and domestic, past and recent – teaches many lessons, about how these struggles were successfully and unsuccessfully united and organized. It teaches that is not sufficient to organize the poor in only separate sectors and locales and around particular issues. They must be united and organized on the basis of a common program of their common interests and demands against not only the symptoms but against the cause of all their pains and sufferings. In other words the poor and dispossessed must be united and organized as the poor and dispossessed nationally and globally to abolish their common exploitation and oppression as a class by capitalism and the rich as the ruling class.

Just as the ruling class with their well-established network of think tanks and policy forming groups, have their council of generals and officer corps, the impoverished must have theirs. These generals are the educated and trained leaders who arise and develop out of the different issues or fronts and locales of struggle of particularly the different sectors of the property-less classes and impoverished strata. As I’ve mentioned already all social struggles, all social movements develop in stages. History teaches that to be successful all stages must be strategically completed like taking one step at a time up the staircase. Today we are in the initial stages of building a necessarily broad and powerful social movement to abolish all domestic and global poverty. It cannot be overemphasized that at such stages the focus or concentration of all energies and resources must be on the identification, education, training, and unity of the leaders newly emerging out the life and death battles of the dispossessed. These struggles are at first separated and fragmented before being united as a political army by a united group of leaders with a common strategic perspective and objective. The leaders learn as they lead, teach as they organize these embattled masses into a force that has to be reckoned with. To win the separate fronts of struggle must be united and coordinated along the lines of a clear and sophisticated strategy. Through this strategic leadership the struggles grow from solely organizing against the immediate effects or the leafs and branches of the problems of exploitation and oppression, to organizing against their root cause. This means that the organizing of a movement must begin with the organizing of the organizers, that is, with the uniting of a group the teachers and leaders of that movement. This is no easy task. As Antonio Gramsci, the Italian and international revolutionary leader, correctly noted,

“One speaks of generals without an army, but in reality it is easier to form an army than to form generals. So much is this true that an already existing army is destroyed if it loses its generals, while the existence of a united group of generals who agree among themselves and have common aims soon creates an army even where none exists.”

* Willie Baptist is a formerly homeless father of three who came out of the Watts uprisings and the Black Student Movement. He has 50 years of experience educating and organizing amongst the poor and dispossessed including working as a lead organizer with the United Steelworkers, as an educator and organizer with the National Union of the Homeless, as the Education Director of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union for 10 years, and as a lead organizer and educator for the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, as well as many other networks. He is a Board member of the National Welfare Rights Union, the United Workers of Maryland, Picture the Homeless in New York. Willie presently serves as the Poverty Initiative Scholar-in-Residence and Co-Coordinator of Poverty Scholarship and Leadership Development for the Kairos Center. Willie is the author of numerous books, articles, and pamphlets including Pedagogy of the Poor, A New and Unsettling Force: Re-igniting Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign, It Not Enough to Be Angry, Lessons of the Poor organizing the Poor: 5 Main Ingredients and the 6 Panthers Ps. Willie presently serves as the Poverty Initiative’s Scholar-in-Residence and Co-Coordinator of Poverty Scholarship and Leadership Development for the Kairos Center.

John Wessel-McCoy focuses on leadership development and political education.  He develops relationships with grassroots community, religious, and labor leaders nationwide. In addition, he researches and develops curriculum focused on history, particularly focused on lessons from the abolitionist movement. He has worked as a union organizer with parking attendants, childcare providers, and home healthcare workers in addition to doing community organizing with homeless and low-income residents in Chicago. He earned an MA in 2009 from Union Theological Seminary and was awarded the Charles Augustus Briggs Award, given to graduates who demonstrated “qualities of conscience, commitment, and courage as exemplified in the life and work of Charles Augustus Briggs.” He grew up Roman Catholic and continues to identify with the social justice and liberative social teachings in his tradition. John is a proud father. He is originally from Decatur, Illinois.

U.S. Conjuntural Analysis – March 2017

Introduction

We are in a new phase of imperialism ushered in by the 2008 financial crisis. US power is in decline. The most stalwart voice for Western Imperialism, The British magazine The Economist, noted in its September 17, 2016 Leader, that today’s rise of tech oligopolies and their avoidance of taxes etc. has cast the shadow of “1917 and all that”! How fitting that this year marks the 100th anniversary of the Great October Revolution!

The workers and dispossessed of the world suffered a defeat and crisis that was symbolized by the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The international agenda of 1990’s was dominated by US capitalist hegemony under the guise of neoliberal globalization. There were subsequent critical articulations against the US proposal to dominate the South: most notably the World Social Forum and subsequent People’s Movements Assemblies (fully supported, it should be noted, by Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution). The rise of popular movements and progressive governments in Latin America altered the balance of forces and were a beacon of hope everywhere. Brave and heroic Cuba endures!

The actual existence of socialism in Latin America, in the age of “There Is No Alternative”, has had a real effect on political environments elsewhere. In the first years of the 21st century Latin American leftists, including Evo Morales, Manuel Correa and Fernando Lugo, took inspiration in the Venezuelan experience to shift from the exclusive terrain of protest politics to making concerted attempts to take power via elections. Subsequently, Left activists from Spain, France, Greece and Germany came and spent time in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and were in many cases involved in forming new political parties and movements in their respective countries that clearly derived inspiration from Latin America’s left experiences, a fact which they often recognized quite openly.

Yet all serious struggles involve contestation. The US government (National Endowment for Democracy, USAID etc.), US & European foundations (Open Society, Omidyar, Ford & Rockefeller etc.) and international NGOs aligned with Western interests, have – since the early 80s – been funding and training what they and liberal partners promote as legitimate “civil society” to promote the Washington Consensus playbook, buy off and corrupt a generation of youth with narcissistic individualism and undermine the left. The left governments in Latin America have been consistently attacked and undermined by US imperialism. The anti-globalization movement became infiltrated. Even the term “social movement” became co-opted!

180 million workers went on strike in India on September 2, 2016 – the greatest strike in human history! Feminist and dignity movements are evolving everywhere, some led of course by bourgeois elements, yet in Brasil, women militants challenged capital and seized land and occupied buildings owned by the mining company Valle.

Capital moves 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, relentlessly and virtually. It’s representatives traverse the globe unhindered. The global working class, poor, marginalized and dispossessed must urgently create a new form and wave of internationalism to rally its forces and build capacity to move from the defensive to the offensive. Ironically, our class faces challenges similar to those faced during the birth of the first International.

The rise of Digital Monopoly Capital and other growing internal contradictions of capital

A new form of capital, Digital Monopoly Capital, threatens extinction or subordination for nearly all other segments of capital including banks, the historic embodiment of finance. Five US Silicon Valley technology firms (Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook)—the top five corporations in the world ranked by stock value, displacing banks and energy companies from the list—are now simultaneously Department One and Two oligopolies. For instance, Google’s share of all searches is 80% on desktops and 95% on mobile devices. Five of the wealthiest eight individuals in the world (who collectively own 426 billion dollars and have as much wealth as the bottom 50%) established their wealth through technology monopolies. We are faced with a sick frenzy of who will become the world’s first trillionaire.

Intellectual property rights and behavioral surveillance technologies are fundamental to this new accumulation model. A new round of privatization and enclosure is in the offing, marketed as “smart cities,” where large tech firms take over the management of cities’ infrastructure and public services based on the efficiencies in areas they can deliver like energy consumption, traffic management etc. The underlying technologies: billions of sensors (the so-called Internet of Things) and advanced software (Big Data et al) are resulting in an even greater intrusion into every personal and minute detail of life. Multi-generational and life-time entrenched class privilege is cleverly codified.

Even more alarming is the proliferation of the first successful form of artificial intelligence – so-called machine learning. It is tremendously powerful, useful and seductive. It will lead to the medium term elimination of huge segments of unskilled, semi-skilled and even skilled labor—perhaps an even greater impact on labor than has resulted from the last 30 years of technology innovation. But this technology also presents a danger of enabling large scale behavioral modification and the marginalization or usurpation of human agency itself.

Digital Monopoly Capital now plays three nearly independent roles. First, it is both the dominant force in the intelligence functions of the deep-state and increasingly important it is critical to mass scale psychological behavioral control. Second, it is a dominant part of culture, communications and the ideological forces of the superstructure. Third, as we have noted, it is dominant in the base of the economy. Previous monopolies had no such extensive and wide control of society. This form of capital represents a clear and present danger to humanity.

Technology is not neutral: it reinforces existing class inequalities. Certain technologies are so advanced and dangerous, often highly centralized and concentrated, that even if private property and the profit motive were abolished they may need to be fundamentally reengineered, slowed down or abolished. The negative consequences are often not immediately understood. They cannot be left to just technologists or scientists to decide how they should be used, but need social control; the people must decide how, when and if such technologies can be used. Examples include transgenics, human cloning and certain kinds of machine learning.

The so-called engine of efficiency—capitalism—is in reality a huge engine of waste and misappropriation of labor time and surplus, and produces false scarcity. Capitalism falsely claims that profitability is the right measurement and hides its lies in many ways including ignoring externalities such as the cost of environmental plunder, waste and human misery.

Lean production methods were touted as a great advance. They “optimize” the supply chain. But in reality some of this was based on massively artificially low energy prices that were established by war and military subsidy. Importing Fiji branded bottles of water over vast oceans of water in half empty container ships is shear nonsense. Lean was used to deindustrialize large economies like South Africa from 20.9% in 1994 to less than 11% today. This is greed and geo-political force and terror in action not “efficiency”.

FAO reports last year that the world, with a population of about 7 billion, produces enough food to feed 13.7 billion people despite 1 billion hungry and malnourished, another 1 billion at the edge. With the explosion of ethanol production for fuel, the poor and dispossessed of the world are being forced to compete with cars for access to staple grain crops. Capitalism’s drive to produce exchange value over use values has reached absurd proportions and immoral contradictions. We produce more than enough food to feed every person on earth but billions starve to preserve profitability.

We are quickly reaching the limits of the planet’s capacity to absorb the ravages that capitalism is wreaking in terms of global warming, air and water pollution, soil exhaustion, ocean acidification etc. without causing a truly massive climate refugee crisis. The physical planet might be fine but human survival is not guaranteed.

The working class will have to develop new strategies and tactics for this new world. The time has long since passed for us to determine a new demand to replace the 8-hour day. The near elimination of human labor requires us to once again dare to dream and define a liberating future.

The post 9/11 state

Capitalism and imperialism have always been violent. The aftermath of 9/11: the perpetual war on terror, the Patriot Act etc. result in a qualitatively different form of the deep-state. The Military Industrial Congressional complex identified by Eisenhower in the 1950’s extends into the Digital Industrial Security Complex. Intelligence functions grow exponentially, five million US citizens with security clearance spy on the world. Millions of sub-contractors now perform core state functions: from front line mercenaries to system administrators. The NSA sublimates the intelligence functions of the four other imperialist powers that are part of the “Five Eyes” into its nexus. Critical parts of UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand state are now funded vassals of the US state.

Every TV, cell phone, laptop and Internet connected device, even when turned off and disconnected is a spying device. The mission of the CIA, “Collect It All”, is to gather all data on every citizen in the world from birth to death. No child with any form of electronic device is safe in their own bedroom or bathroom.

Citizens lose both privacy and all pretense of the right to privacy. A million top security clearance bureaucrats read their emails, collect all their photos, watch them secretly on their video cams, listen to them in their living rooms, and analyze their networks of friends. The right to forget is eliminated. The citizens’ behavior is both observable and controllable, explicitly as well as surreptitiously. A science fiction nightmare becomes reality. The world owes Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden and others a huge debt for exposing this.

The US technology sector, back to the days of Bell Telephone and the transistor, IBM and mainframes, and the design and protocols for the Internet, was always funded and deeply connected to the US military. So, it comes as no surprise that post 9/11 the tech sector fuses itself to the core of the state. The sheer volume of the data they collect has required the outsourcing of both the storage and the analysis of that data to Silicon Valley firms. Even five million spies cannot possibly analyze that amount of big data, so machine learning is now applied to find patterns, identify suspects, modify behavior and put names on the weekly Tuesday drone-assassination list.

The US government protects the monopoly positions of key tech firms like Google domestically (e.g. via the FCC to weaken net neutrality) and internationally (e.g. via economic blackmail to enforce draconian intellectual property rights protection guised as “free-trade” extensions to GATT etc.). As a quid-pro-quo, the tech sector (for a handsome fee) provides key technology and support including digital infrastructure such as the Amazon cloud for the CIA as well as the creation of powerful software to analyze big data by Palantir (co-founded by Peter Thiel) for “clients” such as the CIA, DHS, FBI, NSA, Marine Corps and Air Force. Indeed, when their previous favorite Hillary Clinton lost the election, they pivoted within days to sponsor 150 Republican Senators and Congressional representatives at a far right think tank dinner. Google has already become the largest lobbyist in Washington.

The history of the East India Company reminds us that this form of symbiotic relationship of state-sponsored business monopolies is indeed not new. Apple’s cash hoard, recently standing at $216 billion, is greater than the GDP of 141 countries. Some have estimated this could represent as much as 7% of world’s free cash. Even The Economist recognizes that these Frankenstein-like near feudal-like companies have no predators.

The decline of US power

We are seeing the beginning of the long-term decline of US power. We must note that this is not, in itself, a reason to celebrate. As Marx noted, socialism is not inevitable and there are moments in history when the battle between conflicting classes can result in a period of barbarism, not in outright victory for one of the protagonists. A wide swath of humanity from Libya to Syria, from Sudan to Afghanistan is in a permanent state of humanitarian crisis. Its peoples, land, history and culture are being eviscerated with impunity.

The US’s new military surrogate in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, has a military budget greater than Russia, and is bombing Yemen ports thus putting hundreds of thousands of lives at risk. This is an infuriating example of the moral bankruptcy of their power and rule. The endless war on terror has become a cancer on the human race.

There are three main elements underlying the decline of US power and its ability to maintain “global order”.

First, the general crisis of capital is very severe. It took about 72 months for the US economy to regain the jobs they lost in 2008. This was the slowest recovery since the Great Depression. Eighty eight percent of the job losses of the last thirty years are due to productivity and technology advances, not job “exports” to Mexico and China. Speculative investment like idle real estate in Manhattan is on the rise. The upcoming fourth industrial revolution with technologies like machine learning will continue the massive assault on the need for work and workers. The ranks of the so-called “precariat”— those marginally employed— can only continue to grow even larger. If you delete China’s figures from world economic growth over the last 15 years, there is large-scale stagnation. The US economy is hollowed out. Consumption is credit driven. It is an economy and system in decline.

Second, the US is losing the uni-polar world status that it gained with the defeat of the Soviet Union. The 1990’s and early 2000’s saw the US play a dominant role in geopolitics. To some degree, the return of large portions of Russia to the world capitalist system helped temporarily alleviate the crisis. But now China and Russia are gaining in geopolitical influence at the expense of the US. The US Empire, like many before it, is over-reaching. The United States has more foreign military bases than any other empire in history with over 800 bases located around the world. There are 5 million Americans with security clearance. There is still a dangerous large military industrial digital security complex that both Republicans and Democrats are determined to expand. The March 2017 announcement by the US of enabling THADD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) in Korea is a hugely worrisome provocation of China.

Third, the traditional “hub and spokes” mechanisms of control are in disarray. NATO, the UN, the EU and the OAS no longer function in a manner that the US state and global capital require. Empire over reach became the norm under Obama and Clinton. The restarting of the nuclear weapons race, including Obama’s plans for atomic escalation, including a new generation of weapon carriers, priced at a trillion dollars over the next three decades, the provocations towards China (the so-called pivot to Asia and conflicts in the South China Sea), Iran and Russia, the vast expansion of the theater of war in the Middle East to Syria, Libya and Yemen and the US militarization of Africa are the legacy of Obama and Hillary Clinton. Indeed Obama quietly militarized the African continent, putting nearly the whole of Africa under U.S. military sway and serving as the first U.S. president to bomb an African country. In 2014, the US conducted 674 military operations in Africa. Trump inherits the work in progress of the state.

The economic and political weakening of the United States, while maintaining military supremacy, means the US continues to have enormous destructive capacity but an inability to stabilize post-war nations as seen in Afghanistan and Iraq. Other mechanisms of traditional control, including dollar seigniorage, and aspects of so-called “soft power” such as NGOs, Hollywood, and corporate and social media remain powerful.

The beginning of the end of the classic form of the bourgeois state

The traditional classical form of bourgeois liberal democratic state ushered in by the French revolution is becoming obsolete. Election turnout is declining across the world, according to the World Bank’s 2017 World Development Report. In fact, in the last 25 years, the average global voter turnout rate dropped by more than 10%. In a growing number of countries, including the US, the largest block of voters are those who do not vote: a large section of the working class do not believe that the vote will result in any significant change. The bourgeoisie is actively and contemptuously dismantling social programs, human rights and civil liberties won over the last 150 years.

The campaign to de-legitimize the state, led by Thatcher and peddled by the World Bank in its 1994 Infrastructure Report, that became prevalent under neoliberalism in the Third World, is now also evident in the internal politics of the US and EU. Social democracy is in decline and disarray. We are witnessing the beginning of the end of the ideological hegemony of neoliberalism. The neoliberal balloon was first punctured in Latin America, beginning with the campaigns and organizing of our popular movement comrades in the 90s; then by the Left governments that took power in the late 90s and early to mid 2000s.

During the post WW2 period, the western elite were focused on rolling back socialism, rebuilding Europe, expanding neo-colonialism and creating ideological hegemony. Today the children of the “cosmopolitan elite”, attending the top universities in the US, are without such focus and are becoming more decadent, short sighted and ignorant. Even the US Presidency and the UK Prime Minister’s office are now mechanisms for personal wealth accumulation in addition to being the head sales office for military contractors. Pay for play was the norm with Clinton and Blair long before Trump. However this does not make our enemy any less dangerous.

The election and the crisis of neoliberalism

The rise of Trump is not isolated: Brexit, Modi in India, Erdrogan in Turkey, Orban in Hungary and Le Pen in France. They all represent a global rise of the xenophobic right in the form of cultural populism or “cruel” populism.

Trump’s election (and the rise of cruel populists globally) represents the failure of neoliberalism and a crisis of bourgeois liberalism-humanism. More than any particular section of capital or ideological tendency, Trump represents the collective political failure of global capital, and its leaders in the US. This includes the exhaustion of what the Democratic Party in the US has offered for the last 30 years, which was neoliberalism plus bourgeois identity politics.

It must be said also that Trump has no mandate and was not propelled to victory by a massive racist, xenophobic, reactionary wave of US voters as has often been depicted in the media both at home and abroad. Trump lost the popular vote by 3 million votes. It is due to the peculiarities of US Electoral College system, which was a concession to the former slave states, that he is president today.

Trump was not elected by a wave of angry white working class voters. He received about the same share of white voters as Romney did 4 years ago. In fact, more African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans voted for Trump than Romney. This was also the first election without the full protection of the Voting Rights Act. Our Supreme Court argued that because racism no longer exists in the US, it was no longer necessary. Hundreds of polling stations were closed as a direct result. Hundreds of thousands of usually Democratic voters were disenfranchised. It must also be said that more Americans who were eligible to vote did not vote for either candidate.

Trump’s base, besides the usual Republican Party upper-middle class and ruling elite, was largely drawn from the downwardly mobile former middle class (both workers and petty-bourgeoisie) in the United States. This group saw the privileges it had enjoyed in the immediate post-war period eroded as neoliberal policies took hold at home and the global capitalist crisis deepened. This section of the population was particularly rattled by the 2007-08 crisis and widespread foreclosures, along with the tightening of mortgage and small business credit that came after the crisis.

Neoliberalism has been unable to deliver economic security to this former middle class. Instead it’s only been able to offer wage stagnation and underemployment, coupled with growing costs for housing, health care, and education. This has been only partially and temporarily offset by easy credit and growing indebtedness.

Failed by neoliberalism of both parties, some of the downwardly mobile middle was drawn to Trump. He will also be unable to live up the economic promises he’s made to this group: a return to the stable and relatively high-wage employment of the post-war period. The economic and geopolitical basis of that arrangement is gone. His ability to make up for that failure through appeals to cultural nationalism will not be able to take him very far. Since the election, Trump was the quickest president to go to majority disapproval since polling began: it took just eight days. The next fastest was almost two years.

Trump also does not have solutions for global capitalism. The chronic crisis facing the capitalist system is of a transnational character: the world commodity glut and slowdown in shipping and trade; still-rampant speculation and bubble tendencies in the financial sector; the failure of neoliberal nation-building programs and the accompanying refugee crisis; the ecological crisis; the epochal shift of political and economic power away from the United States; and maybe most fundamentally, the ongoing creation of an absolutely superfluous section of the working class by the fourth industrial revolution, which the global capitalist class has not yet found a way to effective manage except through extreme violence and incarceration.

If the global capitalist class is going to resolve these crises in their favor, they have to achieve of level of organization that has eluded them thus far. This project requires what American historian and sociologist W.E.B. DuBois called “intelligent and unselfish leadership.” Instead of this, Trump represents the most narrow and short-sighted responses to the crisis: remove as many barriers to accumulation as possible, withdraw from the project of organizing a transnational capitalist class and state, and manage conflicts and contradictions through violence.

From the very inception of the United States, beginning with the genocide of the Indigenous peoples, thru slavery and Jim Crow, to Hiroshima and Japanese internment, to the Vietnam War to Afghanistan, a virulent, violent and racist ideology has been at the core of America: it is as American as apple pie.

The defeat of Reconstruction in the US South in the 1870s remains the single most important historic event for understanding US politics today. The use of racist terrorism by the paramilitary Klu Klux Klan (KKK) coupled with the maneuvers by Wall Street to divide poor whites and blacks in the US South to crush the advances won by the end of the Civil War has echoes in Bannon and Trumps attempts to reshape the demographics of the US by force in an attempt to re-create an all-class white unity.

Trump is resurrecting the worst of this history. The US far right has had various strands historically: from the days of the KKK, the John Birch Society of the 1960’s, the paleo-conservatism of Patrick Buchanan, to the Ayn Rand individualism/US “Libertarianism” (exemplified by Rand Paul, the infamous billionaire Koch Brothers – large funders of the Tea Party, their minion Paul Ryan who is Republican Speaker of the House and a significant section of the tech industry). The new Alt Right rebirths and normalizes dangerous racial-grievance, misogynist, nativist ideology and is represented by Peter Thiel, Milo Yiannopoulos and Steve Bannon.

But let us not get lost in the details of shades of ideology nor mask the raw ugliness of these people and what they represent. The vitriolic hatred for a black President, for Muslims and for Mexican “invaders” is at the core of their emergence. Trump campaigned on a rejection of neoliberal orthodoxies in favor of a racial economic nationalism. He promised to wield the power of the state to protect the livelihoods of white workers. He is pulling the American conservative movement away from the individualism of Ayn Rand and towards a more communitarian “white-skinned” conservatism.

The rise of the so-called “alt-right” in the US requires further analysis, but we should be sure not to dismiss them as merely racist amateurs. They are extremely well funded, have developed charismatic leaders, have allies in Europe’s New Right and have a coherent strategy.

Trump’s agenda

Nevertheless, Trump has no long-term solutions to the global crisis of capitalism, in any of dimensions. His economic agenda is focused on removing all obstacles to capital accumulation in the US via the deregulation of financial markets and institutions, rollback of environmental and worker protections, a major cut to the corporate tax rate, and a program of privatized infrastructure investment. These will likely increase profitability for capital circulating through the US economy, but will mostly represent a transfer of wealth and not a program to restore real growth in the productive economy.

On the other hand, he’s looking to shore up his support among the middle class by trying to insulate them from the effects of neoliberalism globalization: trade protectionism to try and prop up US manufacturing (a losing proposition); stepped-up deportations of undocumented immigrants and a massive increase in the militarization of the border to prevent further unauthorized immigration; limits on the legal immigration of high-skilled workers (these immigrants currently fill in the ranks of the leading IT companies in Silicon Valley); and the infrastructure program tied to opening up the whole country to unlimited oil, gas, and coal extraction to create largely temporary construction jobs. However, even with these policies, Trump will not be able to deliver on his promises to the downwardly-mobile middle class.

Generally, capitalists with investments in the US are excited about many of these policies, but nervous about the crack-down on immigration (especially the agricultural and restaurant industries, which are completely reliant on this super-exploitable workforce, and the IT sector which relies on legal, high-skilled immigration) and the promises of trade protectionism, which could increase the costs of their imports (especially retail and most sectors of manufacturing) and set off trade wars that compromise their access to foreign markets.

In the US, it is premature to say that Trump represents a definite section of capital. Nearly every day in the US there is a pitched battle between what is called the Establishment, the Permanent Government (named thus by Bush’s former head of the CIA) or the Deep State (as Trump calls it) versus Trump and some of his ideological advisors. The results of his possible impeachment could be worse for both the world and US working class. The battle between the entrenched neo-liberals and the emergent neo-fascist populists will be chaotic. We admit that we do not have yet a proper analysis of the emerging conflicts and strategies of the various sections of global capital.

In terms of foreign policy, Trump’s narrow agenda of war against “radical Islamic terrorism” is completely unacceptable to the military, intelligence, and diplomatic establishment in the US and around the world that needs the US state to continue playing the role of global policeman for capitalism. Trump’s willingness to cooperate with Russia in Syria and to even hint at questioning his commitment to NATO, and the resulting backlash from the intelligence agencies, is the most visible expression of this conflict.

In general, Trump’s “America First” foreign policy – in relation to the Middle East, the South China Sea, the refugee crisis, the ecological crisis, the economic crisis, and so on, represents an abdication of the leading role of the US state in solving the crisis of global capitalism in favor of narrower and more short-sighted policies.

This can be seen not just in relationship to Russia and the Middle East, but also in his move away from multilateral trade deals like NAFTA and the TPP towards bilateral negotiation, his scuttling of the Paris climate accords, his hard line against accepting refugees from the Middle East, his support for Eurosceptic politicians in the EU, and other examples.

On these life-and-death issues of the global capitalist empire, Trump will have to either surrender completely to the deep state, or they will likely take him down – which may happen even if he does surrender, as he is mostly doing as exemplified by his appointing three Generals to his cabinet. If he were a real dictator with a powerful and organized mass base or even a stronger elite base, he could possibly resolve these problems through purges and repression, but he does not any of these things.

The election of Trump has presented the left with opportunities, conundrums and dangers. Like previous populists, Trump has told certain truths about the state. He has denounced the press as liars. He has challenged American exceptionalism by equating American killing with Russian killing, saying “You think our country’s so innocent?”. He has opposed the Iraq war. He has bragged about his ability to buy politicians. He has said that the US intelligence agencies are wrong and should be investigated. Trump’s challenges to bourgeois orthodox fiction potentially represent openings for the left. These challenges, not merely Trump’s racism, fuel the intense hostility to trump on the part of not only the Democratic party but much of the press and the deep state. The left should not be afraid of being falsely labeled “pro-Trump” by building on these cracks in bourgeois ideology.

The poor in the United States

US propaganda has been largely successful in masking both the profound economic problems as well as the possibilities of a popular movement in the US. The reality is that the wages of the bottom 80% of wage earners have been flat or falling since 1973. Easy credit was expanded to give the illusion that Americans could maintain their standard of living. In 2007-2008, that illusion crashed with the global economic crisis.

Today, 1 in 2 people living in the United States are poor or low-income. A study came out from Columbia University in February 2017 that showed that 43% of US children live in families that struggle to feed, clothe and house them. There are 28 million people without health care, more than 10 million homeless people, 64 million workers make less than a living wage, struggling to sustain themselves and their families. There are Wal-Mart workers who get trained when they join Wal-Mart as an employee in how to apply for food stamps and social benefits because they know they pay their workers so little they will not have enough food to survive although five Walton family members, the owners of Wal-Mart, have as much wealth as 40% of Americans. The one percent has more wealth than the bottom 95 percent combined. This is the greatest inequality in US history.

The majority of the people living in poverty in the US are white. Of course, African-American, indigenous, Latino and other people of color are disproportionately poor, criminalized, and brutalized but the poor in the US are of all races, all genders, all ages, and come from all over – urban and rural, citizen and immigrant.

The example of Flint

The structural adjustment programs that the US has imposed on the rest of the world are now being imposed at home, including the privatization of water. There is the example of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan and what’s going on in Flint is happening all across the country. Flint is where the headquarters of General Motors is located. It’s a multi-racial town of whites, Blacks, Latinos, and more recent immigrants from Africa, the Middle East and Asia. It was the home of the 1936-37 Sit Down Strike that impacted labor organizing not just in the US but also across the world.

In the wake of deindustrialization, Flint was taken over by an Emergency Manager in 2002. This means that democratically elected politicians no longer make the decisions that impact the residents that live in their districts. Instead a corporate executive who gets paid hundreds of thousands of dollars decided they should switch Flint’s water source from the Detroit water system to the Flint River. The problem with the Flint River, though, was they didn’t treat the water properly with the chemical it required and thus corroded the water pipes. Lead and other toxins leached into the water and resulted in permanent brain damage for many. People got Legionnaires’ disease. There’s an entire generation of children in this city who have been irreversibly poisoned. The response of the state officials who committed this atrocity was to deny and attempt to cover it up.

Shortly after they switched the water source to the Flint River, General Motors started complaining that the water was rusting their car parts. So, General Motors was allowed to return to the Detroit water system. But when moms and their kids complained that their hair was falling out and they were getting rashes all over and that the kids were having behavioral problems and there was an increase of violence because people were losing their minds because they were being poisoned, the Emergency Manager said that people and car parts were like comparing apples and oranges and that what was bad for car parts may not be bad for organs and bodies and brains.

It was in this area of the country, the Rust Belt, or formerly industrialized Midwest that proved decisive to Trump’s victory.

The state of popular resistance

While Trump’s election has most definitely emboldened reactionary forces in the US, it has activated far larger progressive forces. The millions at the women’s marches at Trump’s inauguration, and the protests at airports in opposition to the travel ban have been well reported. But much more is happening under the surface. Less well reported was Moral March in Raleigh, North Carolina in February 2017 with over 100,000 people, the largest protest march ever in the history of the US South, an area of key strategic importance for any US movement to be successful. The Moral March comes out of the over decade-old Forward Together, Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina, made up of an alliance of almost 200 progressive organizations. They operate from the principle of fusion politics – fusion of both people and causes.

Over 100,000 people of all races, religions, and genders, marched under a banner of anti-racist, anti-patriarchal and anti-poverty, pro-justice and pro-peace program. They are active both on the streets in protest and civil disobedience, as well as in the courts and legislature. Their successful organizing across historic lines of division, especially across racial lines, offers real hope of breaking the “Southern Strategy” which has kept the working class and poor divided for so long. The leadership behind the Moral Mondays movement has joined the call for a new Poor Peoples Campaign and are in the process of scaling up their state-wide successes across the South and throughout the US.

The young militants in the streets of Ferguson shook the world three years ago. They rekindled the sense of resistance and internationalism that is also part of our history. It was the Palestinian people who were the first to respond in solidarity.

There is a growing resistance led by people who are organizing and fighting for their lives, their rights and their deepest values. People are fighting on many fronts of this struggle, including for good affordable homes, water, nutritious food, health, and education, for racial, gender and LGBTQ justice, for a humane immigration system and an end to mass incarceration, for living wages and good jobs, for a healthy environment, and for world peace. We look to the example of the Forward Together/Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina, the struggle against water shut-offs in Detroit and Flint, the campaigns in Vermont, Maine, Pennsylvania, and Maryland to make healthcare a human right, the youth of Ferguson, Baltimore, New York and all over the country, which show the power that comes when we’re able to see all the problems our communities are facing as deeply inter-connected and organize on that basis.

There is a growing need and yearning to connect our often isolated battles and begin creating a broader and deeper popular movement with the power and vision to take on not just the rotten fruits of poverty, inequality, and oppression but the national and global systems and structures that produce them. Such a movement is building on struggles now taking place, strengthening our connections to produce the unity that is the only way to move us from merely reacting to different disasters to transforming society. It was a vision of just such a transformative movement that led Dr. King to call for a Poor People’s Campaign. It is the same urgent need today that leads to the call for a new Poor People’s Campaign to abolish poverty. The leading role of the poor in these struggles is critical to building this movement. History teaches us that successful movements’ essential first step is uniting those most affected by the problem.

Another key historical lesson that has emerged from decades of struggle and study is that education and training institutes are indispensable forms of organization in developing and uniting (clear, competent, committed and connected) leaders who understand the need to unite the poor so as to end poverty. This is especially pressing today, while we witness and experience an expansion of poverty in a time of plenty, abandonment in the midst of abundance. As forms of organization, these institutes are inseparable from establishing bases of community and operation, media infrastructure, and other essential elements of building a social movement to end poverty.

The global character of today’s crises reveal that more than ever before, the work to abolish poverty in the United States can be won only as part of the struggle against a global order that inflicts suffering and fuels violent conflicts around the world. This means a new kind of unity between the poor in the US and the poor all over the world must be built, on the basis of what we have in common. Developing that unity among the poor, in the US and globally, begins by learning about and listening to as many movements as possible around the country and the world, developing a shared assessment of the global problems we face, and building forms of mutual support and common action.

A Poor People’s Campaign for today requires leaders who are prepared to recognize current limitations, to deepen an analysis of the class enemy, and to develop consciousness of the obstacles and opportunities that lie ahead. Developing political and ideological unity for the movement is an essential component to building cadre – the most advanced levels of leadership within the movement to end poverty who are the teachers that develop other leaders.

Our movements in the US are small and fledgling compared to yours, and we have much to learn from your struggles and experiences. But if the sleeping giant of the working class and poor in the US can be helped to awaken, we can strike a real blow at neoliberalism and imperialism together.

The Revolutionary Process Today: Science and Doctrine

By Lenny Brody

As the crisis of international capitalism continues to develop, and a growing number of countries enter into political crisis, revolutionaries around the world turn to the body of knowledge known as Marxism for guidance in the fight of the working class. However, the confusion and merger of various aspects of Marxism has led to a disorientation of many revolutionaries. Some “Marxists” live in a world of abstractions, with little connection to the revolutionary process. Other “Marxists” run after every protest and expression of the “class struggle” without any strategic conception of the general motion and goals of the revolutionary process.

Historical Materialism and Doctrine

Marxist philosophy is dialectical materialism. When the dialectical materialist method is applied to the study of society the result is the science of society known as historical materialism. Marxist science, historical materialism is distinct from Marxist doctrine. Much of what was written by Marx, Engels, Lenin and others fall under the category of doctrine. Doctrine is a set of principles and policies that are applicable to a specific period of the revolutionary process. Doctrine is based on and flows from the scientific understanding of how societies develop and change.

Marx and Engels in the 1800s

Marx and Engels wrote during the transition from agricultural society to a society based on industrial production. This was a period of a rising bourgeoisie and a rising industrial working class and a poor peasantry that were all in struggle against a feudal political structure. It was also the beginning of the struggle of the working class against the capitalist class. Thus much of the writings of Marx and Engels can be seen as the doctrine of the class struggle for that period. These were the principles for the preparation of the working class to carry the revolution past the seizure of political power by the capitalist class and on to political power in the hands of the workers. These writings also addressed the tactical and organizational implications of those principles. Marx in the “Address to the Communist League” spelled out much of the principal doctrine for this period.

Lenin in the early 1900s

Similarly, Lenin and the Russian revolutionaries faced a society in transition from agriculture society to a society based on industrial production. In addition, the growing internationalization of capitalism led to developing doctrine for the period of imperialism. One of the central features of imperialism was the territorial division of the world among the major capitalist powers and the fight against direct colonialism. During this period large sections of the working class in these capitalist countries were “bribed” into acquiescence by the profits from the super exploitation of the colonies. Thus the role of revolutionaries in those countries was mainly one of preparation and cadre development. In the colonies revolutionaries emerged as leaders of the national liberation struggles that dominated the international revolutionary process during this period.

Capitalism Today

The fundamental features of capitalism that Lenin laid out in his book “Imperialism” do not reflect the realities of capitalism today. The transformation of economic life from industrial production to production based on electronics, robots, big data, artificial intelligence, etc., is leading to social upheavals around the world. Mainstream economics and literature are flooded with books on how rapidly jobs are being eliminated. This is increasingly no longer a controversial question. These qualitatively new methods of production are in the early stages of eliminating labor from production. The basis of capitalism, the exploitation of labor in the process of production, is being destroyed. It is becoming clear that economies of scarcity, the foundation for private property, are being transformed into a global economy of potential abundance.

Abundance produced by electronic technology applied to the production process is leading to conditions that undermine the possibility of any form of private property. Objective conditions have forced society into a leap toward a new stage of human history. This leap is not simply a leap from one form of private property to another. It is comparable to the leap out of primitive communism, the stage of society of hunters and gatherers, who held in common what little the community was able to get to survive. History since then has been of scarcity and the appropriation of the surplus society was able to produce into the hands of a minority of society. Today we face the need to fight for a society based on abundance and distribution according to need, communism. Thus we see the historical sweep that the science of society lays out. The motion from primitive communism, the common sharing under conditions of extreme scarcity, through various stages of private appropriation of the limited surplus produced by society and continued scarcity, toward a communist organization of a sustainable economy, under conditions of cooperation, abundance and freedom for all.

This is the conclusion of historical materialism, the science of how societies change and develop. Revolutionaries now face the questions of developing doctrine for the revolutionary process under these new conditions.

Doctrine for the Revolutionary Process Today

Doctrine is not a subjective choice. Doctrine evolves and is transformed because the objective material conditions of society evolve and are transformed.

The Working Class

What is the situation, the conditions that the working class finds itself in during this leap, this transition? It is clear that the working class has been undergoing a qualitative transformation. The working class is made up of all those who own no productive, value producing private property. The new methods of production are leading to a massive surplus population at the global level. These technological developments are impacting all sectors of the working class. Large sectors of the so called “middle strata” of the working class are finding themselves without stable employment. Although some workers, on occasion, work directly for capitalists, the working class is increasingly finding itself peripheral to the capitalist system of production. They no longer have any ongoing relations to production. These workers are temporary, contract workers, day laborers, and part-time workers. They move in and out of employment and are being pushed towards the informal underground economy and permanent unemployment. Marx in the German Ideology hints at this future when he states, “the communistic revolution … is carried through by the class which no longer counts as a class in society, is not recognized as a class, and is in itself the expression of the dissolution of all classes, nationalities, etc., within present society”. (page 69, International Publishers, 1960) Across the globe the masses of propertyless are growing and beginning to enter into battle against international capital. The only hope for survival this revolutionary class has is to fight for political power so that a new economic system based on distribution according to need can be built.

Objective conditions are leading to a change in the forms of struggle of the working class. The doctrine for today is developing within the political arena where the working class fights the state apparatus to have its basic needs met. Class-based movements are emerging that call for the basic necessities of life – food, shelter, health care, clean water, etc. – to be provided by the state, since there are increasingly fewer employers to provide the wages to buy them. We are seeing the contours of a revolutionary movement different from one in which the centers of the class struggle were at the workplace. These recently economically dispossessed workers are quite destitute and have very little to lose. It is the demands for the basic necessities that workers have in common that can unite the movement for revolutionary transformation. Today revolutionaries need to participate in activities that bring together those impacted by the effects of poverty and economic insecurity across those factors used by the ruling class to divide us, like color, ethnicity, gender, etc. The objective social motion today is emphasizing the fight for the unity of the poor, around what workers have in common. Understanding these new conditions and developing the doctrine for this period is a key task of revolutionaries today.

The Working Class Political Party

Doctrine also has an organizational expression. Many revolutionaries today continue to see the role of revolutionaries and of revolutionary organizations through the lens of the Leninist period. During Lenin’s time there were two classes that could lead the development of industrialization in the primarily agricultural countries, the bourgeoisie and the industrial working class. There were two forms of social organization to facilitate the industrialization of the various countries. The first form was the development of capitalist private property that emerged from private property based in agricultural production. The extreme exploitation and oppression of this form was revealed in the early days of industrialization in England and the period of capitalist slavery in the South in the United States.

With the maturing of Marxism, revolutionaries advocated for the working class to lead the social development of society from agricultural production to an industrialized society. The content of this historical period was the development from agricultural to industrial society. All the 20th century communist revolutions were fights to industrialize agricultural countries. Thus we see two forms of industrialized societies: capitalism led by the capitalist class based on the exploitation of the working class and socialism led by the working class with society organized under favorable conditions for the majority of the population.

The features of the Leninist party were to guarantee that the bourgeoisie did not gain supremacy in this revolutionary transformation. Today there is only one path forward for society, the development of a communist economic foundation for society. Every other attempted path will lead to continued instability and crisis. Objective conditions will continually push society in the direction of communism. However, without the understanding that the goal of the revolutionary struggle is to win political power and establish a communist economic foundation for society, the struggle against the conditions of the crisis of capitalism will not succeed. These different conditions are the basis for the new political party of the revolutionary class.

A political party by definition is an organization that has the goal of achieving or maintaining political power. Thus for the our class to win political power it must have its own political party. In the past political parties have put forward a program that separated it and differentiated it from other organizations. Today, the objective conditions are demanding that the working class fight for the basic necessities of life that can only be satisfied by a communist organization of society and distribution according to need. Therefore, the revolutionary party must not put forward any program that is distinct from the program of the revolutionary class. The struggle to understand this is critical.

Revolutionaries need to grapple with the meaning of the quote that opens up Section II, Proletarians and Communists in the Communist Manifesto:

“In what relation do the Communists stand to the proletarians as a whole?

“The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to other working class parties.

“They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mold the proletarian movement.”

However, this does not mean that revolutionaries sit back and wait for the working class to formulate its program. So long as the class struggle remains diffuse and sporadic, little can be accomplished. Revolutionaries within the class struggle must participate and assist in formulating “programmatic agitation” and strategy and tactics for the revolutionary process under these changed conditions.

The revolutionary political party can only be built on the basis of the doctrine and strategy for the struggle today as the central foundation of the party. Of course this understanding is developed based on the science of society. However, a party based primarily on the general principles of Marxism will always remain a party of abstractions that will be isolated from the revolutionary struggles. The actual social activity of the revolutionary class must be the leading factor.

In the past, during a period of relative class peace it was impossible to develop the kind of party needed for the current period. Today, as the objective revolutionary struggle is beginning to grow, the conscious revolutionaries are charged with the possibility and necessity of building the revolutionary party of the working class.

Anarcho – Syndicalism or Class Struggle

By Nacho Gonzalez

This is an executive summary of a forthcoming article.

Purpose

The influence of Anarchism and Syndicalism has a long history in the American Left. Anarchism as a doctrine has been in existence since the early 1800’s. As capitalism evolved into imperialism in the late 1800’s a new anarchist trend developed: Anarcho-Syndicalism, a fusion of anarchism and trade unionism, which relegated the working class to the economic arena and denied a role for political struggle.

Today syndicalism is once again very strong in the revolutionary movement, witness identity politics and single-issue organizing for example. This doctrine obscures the class struggle and confuses it. Thus hindering the working class from utilizing its best weapon against the system of capitalism – the class struggle.

Specific form in U.S.

In the 1960’s a new form of Anarcho-Syndicalism arose. Previously Anarcho-Syndicalism was trade unionism. Now Anarcho-Syndicalism would be applied to the social struggles of the African Americans, Chicanos, Women’s Movement and other oppressed peoples. By the late 1960’s many of the more thoughtful members of these movement had begun to gravitate towards Marxism and organize study groups. Subsequently they organized different revolutionary –minded organizations, however they brought the Anarcho-Syndicalist outlook of the movement with them.

What was this outlook? “… Men oppressing women, whites oppressing blacks, bosses’ oppressing workers, and it is from these observations that the entire political program of syndicalism was constructed.” Which is: “Women will overthrow men, blacks will overthrow whites, workers will overthrow bosses, and students will overthrow the administrations and so forth.” (1) Thus the class struggle is misinterpreted as varying social struggles and as such is categorized as belonging in the arena of the fight for bourgeois reforms instead of revolution.

The specific form of Anarcho-Syndicalism that developed in the United States was influenced by two factors, the philosophy of pragmatism and a belief that the spontaneous movement or class struggle is initiated from the outside, rather than being the objective product of the contradictions between the capitalists and the workers.

Pragmatism relies on individual experience rather than social experience, alleging each experience to be particular and unique instead of general and similar. It attacks the laws of nature, society and motion. In the end it blames the individual and not the economic system. (2) Anarcho-Syndicalism has been the main form of pragmatism within the revolutionary movement in the U.S.

United with the pragmatic approach is the belief that the working class has to be excited into action from the outside. Anarcho-Syndicalists don’t see that the class struggle is part of the objective process. They believe that agitators create movements rather than movements are the result of deep economic and social changes in the economic system, which then allows organizing and agitation to be effective.

In contrast scientific socialism enables revolutionaries to analyze society and map out a strategy for the working class to take state power in order to abolish private property and organize a new equalitarian society free of want and hunger. The role of revolutionaries is to point out that the enemy is the capitalist system and the capitalist class and not merely individual employers, policemen, border patrol agents, or politicians. It does so by participating in the daily struggle for survival in all its social and political dimensions.

Without the revolutionaries educating the workers in the process of the struggle, they (the workers) cannot elevate and merge the various fights into one mighty coherent class struggle with a strategy for victory.

Since the beginning of the revolutionary movement in the US, Anarcho-Syndicalism has been a recurring deviation. Its principal expressions have been the struggle of the early Anarchists versus the Marxists, its emphasis of trade unionism and today the social struggles in opposition to the class struggle, its belief in practice being primary and separated from theory, that outside contradictions are primary over inner contradictions and lastly emphasis of action over socialist education.

The 100th Anniversary of the Russian Revolution

November 7, 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. This revolution is significant because it was the first time in history that the property-less, the most oppressed and exploited people of a country, seized and held political power for an extended period of time. That political power was used to seize the wealth and property of the capitalists and landowners who had been driving the people of the Russian empire into semi-slavery. Those of us who possess nothing, and are forced to fight every day just to survive, look to the lessons of the Russian Revolution and other instances in history where the poor have risen up in revolution and won political power. The poor have made history in the past. We need to study that history and use what we learn to make history again.

We can see how the early Russian revolutionaries prepared themselves and participated in the revolutionary process in Russia. Prominent historical figures like Plekhanov and Lenin studied how and why societies change. They studied the economic and political history of Russia and Europe. These leaders linked this study with close connections to and participation in the struggles of the oppressed and exploited in Russia. For revolutionaries in the U.S., studying these events and applying the principles of revolution to our new, current situation can help us to be victorious.

Successful revolutions throughout history have demonstrated that the revolutionary process unfolds through definite stages of development. When we look at the history of the Russian revolution we can see how it was necessary to develop strategy and tactics for each stage of the revolutionary process. Without a deep knowledge of the objective conditions of the particular stage, revolutionaries cannot develop tactics that keep them on the correct strategic path forward in the struggle for political power. We need to know when it is possible to advance and when it is necessary to retreat. At each stage increasing numbers of fighters join with and expand the “cadre” core of leaders in the revolutionary organization. Without knowledgeable, class-conscious fighters, and the forging of a revolutionary organization, our class remains defenseless.

Today, we revolutionaries face qualitatively different conditions than our sisters and brothers in history. The extreme internationalization of capitalist production and distribution has forced the property-less of all countries into battle with a powerful international enemy. Revolutionaries in various regions of the world are beginning to cooperate and coordinate their efforts in new ways. We are no longer facing a situation where it is only the “advanced, imperialist” countries that are dominating and exploiting the “backward, colonial and neo-colonial” countries. The class struggle that is emerging is one of a destitute, property-less class within all the countries of the world facing an international capitalist class.

In the United States the application of the most advanced technologies to the productive process is causing the working class to undergo a qualitative transformation. The use of robotics, artificial intelligence, big data, etc. is changing the relation of people to the work place. While people sometimes work in traditional employment, for the most part the laboring class no longer has the same relation to the capitalist system of production. We move in and out of employment and find ourselves working in the illegal or semi-legal underground economy or facing permanent unemployment.

These objective conditions are beginning to become clear. An objective, spontaneous movement is emerging to end poverty and the oppressive conditions our class faces. This demands that an organization of revolutionaries leaders is developed that understands the path forward to seizing political power and can ensure the unity of our movement. However, many activists, including revolutionaries, have become disoriented. Because of these subjective factors and the current objective conditions, we find ourselves on the strategic defensive. Our enemy is clear on these new conditions and what they must do to remain in power. At this point we cannot out-organize or out-maneuver this enemy. Our strength is to rely on the leading fighters and new forms of struggle that are emerging as the objective economic crisis of capitalism continues to develop.

By learning from the Russian Revolution and other revolutions in history, we can master the strategy and tactics of revolution, and rally our class around a program that puts us on the path to political power. The aim of the revolutionary process is the abolition of private property and the distribution of all that is produced according to what people need. Today this is a world wide revolutionary historical process.

Book Review – The Unity of the Poor and the ‘Cyber Left’

9780252080388

Text:
Todd Wolfson, Digital Rebellion: The Birth of the Cyber Left. University of Illinois Press, 2014.

Review by the University of the Poor Website Team
Tim Shenk, Daniel Jones and Heather West

 

The Birth of the Cyber Left

Todd Wolfson’s latest book, Digital Rebellion: The Birth of the Cyber Left, is an insider’s hard look at the recent period of left organizing and mobilization; new forms and methods of struggle, organization, and collaboration; and the role of new technologies, in particular the Internet, in these new kinds of movements. The book is as even-handed as it is illuminating, and in it organizers and scholars alike will find clues to pressing questions about how to advance efforts for equality and justice.

Digital Rebellion (University of Illinois Press, 2014) highlights the advances made by activists and organizations in the 1990s and 2000s in their attempts to develop new strategies for confronting the interconnected and global nature of social problems. At the same time, as a scholar and organizer himself, the author challenges what he understands as the largely “celebratory” literature on recent social movements. Describing these new organizations and networks with the term the “Cyber Left,” he analyzes their (and his own) miscalculations and internal contradictions during this most recent period. The book blends the histories of the Independent Media Centers, the alternative/anti-globalization movement, and other efforts in a fresh and compelling way. It is convincing in its insistence that activists and organizers must question ideologies that equate democracy, collective leadership, and good strategy with horizontality and decentralization and, relatedly, examine our over-reliance on technology and optimism about the inherent value of network technologies for promoting a more just world.

The Cyber Left, Wolfson argues, could be a way to characterize a new phase of social movement history in the United States, differentiated from but also emerging out of the “Old Left” and the “New Left.” The Old Left was strongest in the first half of the twentieth century, was strongly tied to Marxism, had its base in unions, and was decimated by McCarthyism and the realities of Stalin’s USSR. The New Left emerged in the 1960s with the civil rights movement. It questioned the centrality of the capitalist-worker relationship to understanding and combating oppression and social problems, leading to the growth of many identity-based movements in the second half of the twentieth century. Both the Old and New Left had their own strategies, structures, and governance, that broadly distinguish them from one another, even if they can’t be considered monolithically. The New Left emerged out of and in response to the gains and limitations of the Old Left, as well as changing economic and political conditions and relationships. Calling this latest phase the Cyber Left, then, is an attempt to define “the novel set of processes and practices within twenty-first-century social resistance that are engendered by new technologies and in turn have enabled new possibilities for the scale, strategy, structure, and governance of social movements” (p.4).

According to Wolfson, each phase of resistance mimics the material conditions in which it was born. Whereas the Old Left developed a hierarchical party structure to combat the structures of industrial capitalism, the Cyber Left has organized itself as a series of global and largely autonomous and horizontal networks, taking advantage of technologies that connect geographically dispersed struggles and applying more democratic forms of information sharing and dissemination in an attempt to take on the new networked/globalized capital.

Wolfson is encouraged by how the development of the Internet has allowed for breakthroughs in the democratization of information. He notes that strong web-based networks make it possible to scale up resistance to the regional and global levels required by the current phase of capitalism. He cites as a watershed moment, the first message on the indymedia.org website on the cusp of the 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle, Washington: “Welcome to Indymedia. The resistance is now global…” (p.71). By creating an open, democratic, participatory way of sharing news, activists attempted to shine a spotlight through the corporate media blackout of social struggles and strengthen networks for social change.

Wolfson documents the Independent Media Centers (IMCs) and other Cyber Left networks efforts in the 1990s and 2000s. His section on the influence of the Zapatista movement of southern Mexico is especially useful, challenging many commonly held notions about the EZLN, its history, and its place as a model for efforts in the US and elsewhere. Where Digital Rebellion really shines, however, is in its clarity of analysis of the current historical moment, and its level-headedness in critiquing a movement in which the author himself is a committed leader.

Many activists saw in the digital information technology revolution the potential for powerful new tools for change. They built independent media networks, most notably the platform indymedia.org, to empower regular people to “be the media,” tell their stories, and connect with others. In retrospect, Wolfson says he ultimately miscalculated the power of technology. In our August 26 interview with the author, he noted that he “overestimated technology in starting Media Mobilizing Project [in Philadelphia]. We still need to do the hard work of organizing, though we bring technology with us to strengthen on-the-ground work.”

In the book, Wolfson takes a critical look at the strategy, structure and governance of Indymedia and other Cyber Left organizations. He delineates the movement’s primary strategy as a “switchboard of struggle” to facilitate an open digital commons where a wide range of people could share stories and discuss strategies for social change.

Wolfson delineates the movement’s structure as a global and decentralized network with autonomous nodes acting within the larger network. The governance of these movements was set up as a non-hierarchical direct democracy with all members having equal say in all organizational decisions.

Wolfson posits that this horizontality in strategy, structure and governance was perhaps an overcorrection of past hierarchies and sectarianism in social struggle. The “switchboard of struggle” model has been hampered by its lack of political clarity and lack of a process for leadership development.

Instead of a politics driven by those most affected by the ills of society – the “deprived,” as Wolfson calls them – the Cyber Left developed according to the demands and ideologies of the “discontented.” These two groups orient their organizing differently. Wolfson says:

The deprived aim to get their immediate needs fulfilled and challenge capitalism on the basis of material inequality and oppression. The discontented, however, have their material needs met, as they are integrated into the system, and therefore their challenge to capitalist society occurs on ideological grounds around issues of freedom, power, and the fulfillment of self (p.23).

In developing organizations, this second group tended to underestimate the centrality of building deep connections with groups already working for social change. Wolfson quotes Jeff Perlstein, an early leader in the Seattle Independent Media Center (IMC), who admits, “We did a shitty job of building on-the-ground relationships that were really real, you know, with preexisting community-based organizations.” Wolfson added in our interview that IMCs were at their best when they were strongly grounded to the local community, were working closely with other local organizations, and were able to take advantage of national and global networks from this vantage point.

Though always fair, Wolfson shows his frustration with the core tendencies of horizontalism and openness in Cyber Left organizations like Indymedia. Whereas these principles allowed many people to engage, he argues that it ultimately led to a dilution of the movement and hindered its long-term ability to develop leaders and build power. The horizontal, decentralized structure of the IMC network kept it on the defensive, unable to take proactive steps.

Yet the Cyber Left is larger than independent media activists attempting to use digital communication technologies to further social change. It has to do with how technology has allowed social movement organizations to work, strategize and mobilize on different scales: from the local to the national and global. Looking at today’s global landscape, this creativity and connection across miles and national borders is fast becoming a necessity.

 

Implications for the Development of the University of the Poor

While many of the efforts of the Cyber Left have been directed towards mass mobilization and mass communication, there are still important implications of this history, and of the conclusions that Wolfson draws, for the work of building the University of the Poor.

Bases of unity

One of Wolfson’s central criticisms of the mode of organization of the Cyber Left is the way it leaves networks and organizations incapable of making proactive moves. These networks have been well-adapted to “swarming” in physical and virtual space in response to crises, threats, and the actions of the ruling class and its representatives – even winning some major concessions and tactical victories. However, the fact that the collaborative effort is based on a shared commitment to horizontalism and autonomism, and not on a shared scientific and moral understanding of society or of who we are and who our enemy is, makes it impossible to take the strategic initiative in the struggle against global capital. While the Cyber Left has focused on uniting forces on the field of battle, the University of the Poor – thinking and planning based on an understanding of the whole war – should be focused on uniting forces before entering the field of battle.[1]

The University of the Poor, if it’s going to serve as a means of working proactively to combat and defeat the forces of global capital, has to be founded not just on a set of shared organizational principles or a commitment to a certain structure, but on an ongoing and shared process of scientific assessment and strategic thinking (i.e., understanding ourselves and our enemy). Fundamental to that is a shared commitment to building the unity and social leadership of the global poor and dispossessed. Our commitment can’t be to an ideology or even just a vision of another world, as with much of the Cyber Left, but to the survival and the victory of our actually-existing class.

This assessment and thinking will need to find expression in art and ritual if it’s going to help produce a living and deeply shared politics.

Online and offline organization

Wolfson points out that the Indymedia Centers (IMCs) were able to work most effectively, maintaining and developing a core of leaders and making a genuine political contribution, when they had strong local bases of operation. Right now, the University of the Poor is organized, at least formally, along thematic lines: political economy, history, and the battle of ideas. Those formal groupings have proved to be difficult to maintain. This isn’t surprising, considering the limits of technologies like video conferencing and collaborative document editing for building and maintaining thick relationships between leaders, along with cultivating a shared identity and sense of collective responsibility. Moving forward, we should think together about how to encourage more locally-based, in-person collectivities – possibly of a temporary and ad-hoc nature.[2]

That isn’t to say that the online collaborative tools we have available to us aren’t important. We have to take full advantage of their uses for real-time communication and collaboration and for archiving information (essays, news articles, books, videos, reports, etc.) and making it available. However, the shared use of technology can’t substitute for either a shared strategic understanding or the deep personal relationships that make collective leadership and accountability possible. Those relationships can’t survive without regular, in-person contact. This is another lesson that Wolfson draws from the Cyber Left and from the experience of the IMCs in particular, about the dangers of over-emphasizing the organizing power and the social role of new information technologies.

[1]                Many of us would say that we are already on the battlefield, waging struggles as the poor and dispossessed in our communities or on the state or regional level. At the same time, we suggest that it’s also important to work at preparing for a united global struggle against the myriad forces of global capital.

[2]                In our August 26 conversation, Wolfson suggested further study of the organizational models being attempted by groups as diverse ideologically as Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain and Bill McKibbin’s 350.org.