Cops and Constitutions

6ynHNXjA(Doug Brown/ACLU of Oregon)

The cops are violating the Constitution by attacking people exercising their basic rights — — that much is obvious. The rounding up of random protestors because they “fit the description” is related to the discriminatory policing that has historically denied poor, Black, and Brown people their basic rights because they “fit the description.” It’s a form of collective punishment outside the rule of law.

The very existence of the new uniformed secret police violates our rights. But, there have been so many assaults and exceptions to the Constitution, it cannot seriously be called the “highest law of the land.” Instead, the use of secret police should reveal to us a deeply entrenched and systemic tyranny that is the political blowback from empire. In fact, we are now ruled by a system of principles and practices that are nothing short of a new imperial constitution.

Yes, the empire delivered the death blow against the Constitution and the republic it defined. But we cannot know how the murder was committed without inspecting the body. My years as a teacher made it clear that most people had never actually read the founding documents. How do we expect to transform something we do not know?

Great artists innovate new forms of art when the existing forms no longer express the times they live in or the visions they have for the future. But at the same time, the act of creation comes from knowing and mastering the older decaying forms. This is also true of the political innovations we call revolutions. 

The Old Constitution

For us, the old decaying form is the US Constitution. The Constitution failed to grant “the people” any power beyond electing elites to represent them— a limited form of power now totally undermined by the two-party system never mentioned in the Constitution. The Constitution gave all power to the government and no real power to the people — compounded of course by the fact that Blacks, Women, Natives, and Mexicans who comprised a majority of the people were outside of the definition of ”we the people.”

In its original form, the proposed Constitution was still unacceptable to the minority white male electorate because nothing listed the rights of the people to protect them from the power of the state. The Bill of Rights was added by popular demand and without it the Constitution would not have been ratified. Those rights were listed in the Bill of Rights — but not granted or created by it — since they were “natural rights” beyond the legitimate power of any government to either confer or revoke. It’s not that the Bill of Rights ever worked well, it didn’t. But it did work as contested terrain to struggle over.

The first Constitution created a republic in form but one that allowed very limited democratic power even for the newly enfranchised white artisans, small farmers, and workers. The “Three/fifths Compromise” of the original Constitution institutionalized slavery, conquest, and the white supremacy that had been taking shape since the first Europeans arrived.

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The Imperial Constitution

For the last seventy years, even the remaining form of the republic has been irreversibly damaged by war and empire. And as with racism, institutional structures tell the real tale. After 1950 or so Congress surrendered its constitutional power to declare war and the imperial presidency quickly took over. The people surrendered too — bullied or conned into obedience by the fear merchants of cold war anti-communism.

In short order, we had standing armies, secret police, and the military-industrial complex. All real power was quickly centralized into the executive branch. There were important milestones when that power was further consolidated: 9/11, the War on Terror, the Patriot Act, various NDAA’s, the militarization of the border, ICE attacks on immigrants, the attacks on Occupy and Standing Rock, to name a few. Mass incarceration and the militarization of police were the final jewels in the imperial crown. The systematic tyranny of the imperial constitution was ready-made and waiting for a president like Trump.

But, in fact, every President since 1950 has been a war criminal and a tyrant by definition: their power was in violation of the rule of law. And, this monster executive branch includes the rapidly growing police forces — uniformed and secret — and the new form of secret but uniformed police that have appeared in DC, Portland, and Columbus. There are eighteen secret police forces in all.

In the past cops often hid their badges before committing crimes — now we have entire police forces that both violate, and are immune from, the rule of law by their very nature. If not intent on committing crime why would police need immunity from the law they claim to enforce?

But the rubber bullets, sticks, and chemical weapons reveal weakness. Would they resort to violence if other forms of social control were working to maintain order? Or is this a domestic replay of the military’s strategy of “full-spectrum dominance?” Do they simply see all forms of dissent as a challenge to their power? All of the above?

We now face an interlocking crisis of existential proportions: climate change, extreme wealth and political inequality, perpetual war and empire, the merger of the corporation and the state, the collapse of democracy, and the ramping up of racism and patriarchy necessary to weaken the people. These crises cannot be faced let alone solved by the existing order because they are the existing order. 

A New Constitution?

We now have no choice but to create a new democratic system or else the interlocking crisis will come crashing down on all of our heads. Democracy will take many forms but massive protest movements that reveal and challenge the illegitimate power of the state is a huge step in the right direction. And, the secret police and the militarized police forces are the front lines of unlawful and illegitimate state power. That is why we see the good cop/ bad cop efforts to co-opt the movement with one hand and to crush it with the other. That is why Trump and the executive branch he now personifies have no choice but to double down. 

This crisis of empire is the cause of so much sound and fury but this time signifying everything: the old constitution is dead, the imperial constitution rules and the new constitution awaits. Let’s see now — how do new constitutions come to be?

 

Posted in American Culture, American Exceptionalism, Capitalism, Climate Change, Corporate Power, Empire, Military, Organizing Strategy, Racism, Red Scare, revolutionary strategy, White Supremacy, Working Class | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

White Privilege: The Psychic Wage, Mass Incarceration and Class Solidarity

Also at CounterPunch

White Skin Privilege

White privilege is a thing. It’s just not the same thing the corporate Democrats use to boss us around with. The concept of white privilege was not invented by some liberal university professors. In fact, the concept of white privilege was invented by a white man: a radical activist and historian who never went to college.

Writing for the John Brown Commemoration Committee in 1965, Theodore Allen innovated the discourse on white skin privilege. Then in 1967 he co-authored “White Blindspot” and in 1969 published “Can White Workers Radicals Be Radicalized?”

According to Jeffrey B. Perry,

Allen’s work influenced the Students for a Democratic Society and sectors of the “new left” and it paved the way for the “white privilege,” “race as social construct,” and “whiteness studies” academic fields.1

In our deep past, white privileges were granted by a “presumption of liberty” to whites that were simultaneously denied Blacks.

We can track that presumption of liberty straight to the great 2020 uprising against police violence. We are all supposed to enjoy the  “presumption of innocence” but that is systematically denied Natives, Blacks, other people of color, poor people, and those that do not conform to gender or sexual norms. On-the-spot executions deprive people of color the right to be “innocent until proven guilty” and to enjoy the equal protection of the law. As “guilty until proven innocent” became the new normal it affected everyone including the white working class.

Unlike liberal interpretations of white privilege used to quiet dissent, Allen’s understanding was that white privileges are contrary to the long-term political and material interest of white people. The benefits, bribes, and appeals to white people do have a real value, which is one reason they work, but that value is far less than the value that would be produced by class solidarity and cross-racial action to raise wages, win political power and establish justice.

In 1969 Allen wrote:

The white-skin privileges of the masses of the white workers do not permit them nor their children to escape into the ranks of the propertied classes. In the South, where the white-skin privilege has always been most emphasized and formal, the white workers have fared worse than white workers in the rest of the country. The white-skin privilege for the mass is the trustee’s privilege, not release from jail, merely freedom of movement within it and a diet more nearly adequate. It is not that the ordinary white worker gets more than he must have to support himself and his family, but that the black worker gets less than the white worker. The result is that by thus inducing, reinforcing and perpetuating racist attitudes on the part of the white workers, the present-day power-masters get the political support of the rank-and-file of the white workers in critical situations, and without having to share with them their super profits in the slightest measure…2 [emphasis added]

To this day, “The white-skin privilege for the mass is the trustee’s privilege not release from jail…” Some of the prisoners can control other prisoners but never challenge the warden.

Mass Incarceration

Allen’s reference to prison is not just a metaphor. Look at mass incarceration today. According to a Pew Research Center study  2010 US incarceration rates for white men are 678 per hundred thousand and 91 per hundred thousand for white women. The incarceration rate for black men is a staggering six times greater than white men, and almost three times higher than for black women. (4,347 for Black men and 260 for Black women). Yet, white men and women are incarcerated at rates much higher than those of comparable countries.

The US rate for white male incarceration alone is far greater than every other European incarceration rate for total prisoners of all classes, races, and genders. And the Russian incarceration rate skews the statistic as it towers above every other European country at 439 per hundred thousand.  The average rate for the European Union was 135 in 2006. US white women, for example, are incarcerated at higher rates than the total of all classes, races and genders of 20 European counties.

The penal system captures the effect of white privilege in a nutshell. “You got more than the Blacks don’t complain.” But so much less than justice, freedom or democracy would demand.

Yet our relative privilege allowed whites to consent to the war on drugs and vote for “get tough on crime” politicians like Joe Biden. They aimed at Blacks first but ultimately created a police state that punishes protest with violence and aims to make the exercise of constitutional rights a criminal act. We all lose, including losing our rights to a trial by jury that the Bill of Rights claims to protect. The new penal system also got tough on working-class whites as it garrisoned the entire country with a militarized force dedicated to protecting the established order.

The Psychic Wage

The privilege harder to put a price on, and one of the most serious remaining obstacles to overcoming racism is what W.E.B Dubois called the “psychological wage.“3  The psychological or psychic wage is that highly coveted sense of personal, spiritual, and moral superiority we are taught to derive from our skin color.

This psychic wage is collected, in part, by an imaginary connection with whites of high status. White privilege creates vertical solidarity that connects working-class whites to the power and glory of the rich, strong, and celebrated white elites, even though our overall political and economic interests are shared by working-class people of color. White workers are exploited by the boss and sent to die in their wars daily. Our privilege gives us the delusion that we are not who we truly are.

James Baldwin, the black writer, and visionary, put it this way:

[A]s long as white Americans take refuge in their whiteness—for so long as they are unable to walk out of this most monstrous of traps—they will allow millions of people to be slaughtered in their name, and will be manipulated into and surrender themselves to what they will think of—and justify—as a racial war. They will never, so long as their whiteness puts so sinister a distance between themselves and their own experience and the experience of others, feel themselves sufficiently human, sufficiently worthwhile, to become responsible for themselves, their leaders, their country, their children, or their fate. They will perish…in their delusions. And this is happening, needless to say, already, all around us….But the American delusion is not only that their brothers all are white but that the whites are all their brothers. [emphasis added]

Whiteness and privilege distance us from our “own experience and the experience of others.” You may feel connected to a Trump or a Clinton for an Obama, or aspire to become a general or a billionaire, but to them we are but chumps and pawns.

Horizontal or Vertical Solidarity? Class Solidarity or Class Collaboration?

Yes, it is the privileges whites have that disrupt horizontal solidarity, but when those bribes are eroded, even partially, by debt, poverty, the long term decline of wages, poor health, drug addiction, and hopelessness, their hypnotic power weakens. Young whites in particular have come to see the transparent truth that the system is rigged against them. Perhaps most of all, that the forecast of life on our planet is so poisoned and precarious that no amount of privilege will save them.

The fact that tens of thousands of white people — often from small towns — have joined the Uprising is evidence that the white privilege system is weakening.

These changes in consciousness are signs that we might again cross into revolutionary territory. The unending recession of 2008 has forced whites to choose: cling ever harder to the psychological wage, hate, and white supremacy, or join the movements toward social reform, revolution, resistance, and love.

In a broader sense, it is the corporate power that is creating a crisis in privilege as a form of social control. If the corporate state can no longer allow any meaningful improvements in the lives of everyday people — and impose only austerity and growing poverty — we can expect that both the Democrats and Republicans will increasingly turn to the psychological wage as the remaining form of compensation, bribe, and appeal. In different ways perhaps, Trump, Clinton and Obama have nonetheless resorted to the vertical solidarity of nationalism and/or corporate forms of political identity to block the political space that should be occupied by struggles over economic democracy, equality, ecology, and peace.

The vertical solidarity of white privilege should make us very wary of other forms of vertical solidarity that have been a typical tool of the elites. Tokenism and machine politics establish a political and spiritual connection when people identify with the managers of war and empire because they share the same gender, sexuality, color, class, or national origins. 5

Privilege, vertical solidarity, and the psychic wage remain potent means of maintaining social control at home and empire abroad. In the same way white privilege blinds white people to their own invented identity and the depth of racism, imperial privilege blinds all of us to the ongoing imperial project with its constant bloodletting and profit-making that has become our way of life.

Our best move is to take on the most deeply entrenched form of privilege: white privilege. For that, we need to organize the white working class.

It’s Not Academic.

Debates continue over Allen’s assertion that the white race and white privilege was invented as a conscious and deliberate act of the oligarchs. Was it that, or the general outcome of the historical conditions of the time? The key argument for activists, however, is that white racism is not itself innate and therefore can be changed. History is made by human action. Sometimes human acts are conscious, even conspiratorial. Other times we contribute to change through a multitude of human decisions; local and global, visionary, and parochial.

But the political world is not an academic debate. It is up to us to prove that white racism is not innate in white people and that racism can be changed by activism.


  1. The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights from Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight against White Supremacy. p 8-9
  2. Ted Allen, Can White Workers Radicals be Radicalized p. 175

3. W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction [New York, 1935], pp. 700-701.

4. An Open Letter to My Sister, Miss Angela Davis

5. For more see Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, From Black Lives Matter to Black Liberation, Chapter 3.

Posted in Movement Culture, Organizing Method, Organizing Strategy, Racism, revolutionary strategy, Strategy, Uncategorized, White Privilege, White Supremacy | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Can White People ‘Organize Their Own’ Against White Racism?

“ Their (the poor “whites”) own position, vis-a-vis the rich and powerful . . . was not improved, but weakened, by the white-skin privilege system.”

“The ‘white race’ is the historically most general form of ‘class collaboration.”

 Theodor W. Allen*

Also at Counterpunch

 

The Time Is Ripe To Protest. The Time Is Ripe To Organise.

At no time since the ’60s has social upheaval and activism created so many opportunities to oppose racism. It is time to engage each other in a struggle over what it means to be white and a worker in America. And that engagement will be most successful in the world’s best classroom: movement building, organizing, and activism.

The uprising against police violence is history in the making. Why? Because the people are on the move. No movement can succeed without unleashing the creative energies of the millions. While many questions remain, the big one for the long game: What is the relationship between organizing and protest? Reflecting on the failures of the Civil Rights movement, Martin Luther King said:

Yet in candor and self-criticism it is necessary to acknowledge that the torturous job of organizing solidly and simultaneously in thousands of places was not a feature of our work….Many civil rights organizations were born as specialists in agitation and dramatic projects; they attracted massive sympathy and support; but they did not assemble and unify the support for new stages of struggle.

Can we build long-lasting organizations to carry on the struggle and spirit of the most important popular uprising in recent history?

Resistance To The Vast Militarized Penal System

Like many times in our past, Black people have led the way. In the midst of the pandemic, the great 2020 uprising has revealed deep systematic dysfunction and crisis. Can we seize this opportunity to engage white people in questions of power, race, class, and empire?

Over the past few decades, the American people have created a vast militarized penal system that is now the most powerful institutionalized racism in the US. And like the forms of institutionalized racism that preceded it, the penal system is an effective form of social control.

The system controls through discriminatory and militarized policing, on-the-spot executions, slave-like prison labor, mass incarceration, school-to-prison pipeline, restriction of trial by jury, lengthy and mandatory sentencing, and predatory fine, fee, and debt traps.

The penal system’s gigantic sweep and size constitute nothing short of a preemptive war against the most rebellious: the young, people of color, the poor. The movement for social change and equality will fail unless we confront the vast militarized penal system. It controls us all black and brown and white.

Photo by @christine fisher

The Uprising is a Challange

Can white activists confront white racism at a time of intense class conflict? The never-ending recession of 2008 has intensified wealth inequality across the board with the upward redistribution of wealth falling hardest on people of color but hitting whites too. Good full-time jobs are going and they are not coming back.

The pandemic resulted in mass unemployment and mass misery. The pandemic bailouts of corporate America — passed by a unanimous Congress — reinforced ruling class power, made inequality far worse and gave the elites cover to attack us all by doubling down on austerity.

There is a widespread understanding that the economy and political system are rigged. One of the main rigs is the class line: corporate power is the government now. Once the insatiable demand for power and profit drive government, representative democracy can no longer deliver significant economic benefits to everyday people. The Uprising, Standing Rock, Occupy, the Sanders campaign, the resistance to Trump, and other events have revealed the discontent of millions of white people and our willingness to stand up. We have the capacity to help create progressive social movements and even make history.

But the working class has deep flaws that have until now proven fatal: it is divided. Race, gender, sexuality, and age cut us up in many ways. If history is a guide to action we can retell a crucial part of the tale by making a challenge to white supremacy central to our organizing efforts. To do that, white people must combat the system of white privileges that have long been the primary means by which racism has divided the working-class.

The idea of privilege does not mean we are not exploited by the bosses, killed by cops, unjustly imprisoned, or used as cannon fodder — we are ruthlessly exploited in many ways — but because of our class not because of our skin color.

Those white privileges are a hidden web of arrangements in housing, education, health care, law enforcement, election procedures, and voting that further rig the system against people of color. But because white privileges have been so deeply entrenched for so long they often seem to be neutral measures of merit, at least to white people. How do we shine a light on this blindspot?

Action is the best way to reveal the truth. Systematic racism is historic and collective and cannot be wished away by simply having better attitudes, being born to progressive parents, or being “nice” to people of color. You can’t just give it up, even if you want to, except through joining the social movements for change and organizing at the point of privilege. White organizers and activists who challenge the system have taken the first crucial step in transforming white privilege into class solidarity. Many organizing projects await. We can expect no easy victories.

 

Organize Our Own?

As the ’60s revolution came up against the wall of interlocking obstacles, civil rights organizers experimented with Black Power and Women’s liberation. Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Jo Freedman, Shulamith Firestone, and the authors of “To the Women of the New Left” offered up some hard-won knowledge.2  They told a sometimes bitter but compelling truth: organizers were most effective working within their own communities.

Speaking to the Organization of Afro-American Unity, Malcolm X put it this way.

Now if white people want to help, they can help. But, they can’t join. They can help in the white community, but they can’t join. We accept their help….They can…work in the white community on white people and change their attitude toward us.3

“Organizing your own” is not a call to white separatism, but a way to lay the basis for authentic coalition movements in which working-class whites see their own destiny bound up with that of black and brown people.

 

In Black Power and White Organizing, Anne Braden, a legendary southern white civil rights organizer, wrote:

Certainly the inherent needs of poor white people are reason enough to organize—they, like poor black people, are ill-fed, ill-housed and lacking in opportunities for education, medical care, political expression, and dignity. But I think what we are recognizing is that these white people will never be able to solve these problems unless they find ways to unite with the black movement seeking the same things.

It was true back then and it is true today.

My purpose is not to present false either/or choices. The organizational forms we create are up to the local situation and local actors. White organizers can, and are, making real contributions in multi-racial organizations and movements. But one way or another, we white organizers must reconsider ways of talking and organizing around white supremacy and white privilege.

Luckily for us, we can follow the work of the great white working-class intellectual, Ted Allen, as our north star. We can start with the strategic implications from his classic work: The Invention of the White Race.


*Both quotes cited in Jeffrey B. Perry, The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights from Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight against White Supremacy  p. 2 and p. 5

  1. See Chapter 8, Sara Evans, Personal Politics. “Women of the New Left” cited by Evans p. 200.
  2. Malcolm X, By Any Means Necessary, 58.
Posted in American Culture, American Exceptionalism, Capitalism, Corporate Power, Empire, feminism, History, Labor Movement, Martin Luther King, Movement Culture, organizing, Organizing Strategy, Racism, revolutionary strategy, Socialism, Strategy, White Privilege, White Supremacy, Working Class | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What is the General Strike?

Also at CounterPunch.

The General Strike in the US is a multi-faceted, poly-centered resistance movement responding to the general crisis of capitalism and corporate power triggered by the Covid-19 crisis. The pandemic is revealing to millions what was always well hidden: America is a house of cards.

The bosses and their government have no interest in defending the life and liberties of working-class people. Quite the opposite. In order for corporations to achieve their control over us, they are driven to undermine our human and political rights — just as they are driven to maximize profits. Their strategy is hollow out and weaken all the democratic and representative functions of the government, the two-party system, even trade unions.

After four decades of retreat by organized labor; after the double defeat of the Sanders campaign; after Citizens United legalized bribery; after the multi-trillion dollar bailouts of the ruling class passed by a united and unanimous Congress — we are on our own. The General Strike is an attempt to fill the vacuum left by the collapse of representative democracy.

The General Strike is anti-Trump but it is also against the system that produced Trump. So many still want to believe the system can work for us if we elect the right leaders; that elections are actually on the level; that justice will prevail if we get the right person on the Supreme Court. We tried all this and failed.

And as inspiring as the general strike is, it is a prelude to what is coming. In a mere ten years, we will be lost to irreversible, war-driven climate chaos. The pandemic is the opening act of humanity’s greatest drama. It is now time to “fish or cut bait” and we have been cutting bait for far too long.

Neither the incremental change internalized by far too many union officials nor the incremental change of nordic social-democracy sold by democratic-socialists will be permitted in the USA. Even a moderate reformer like Bernie Sanders or a common-sense anti-war politician like Tulsi Gabbard will never ever be let near the real levers of power — unless they surrender. Why? Because we are at the very center of the empire and if the bosses lose here they have lost it all.

But we can start right here, right now. There will be real resistance no matter what because people face life and death issues. The lose/lose choices people face between food or rent or healthcare will provoke resistance. Should we stand aside and call this wave of resistance nothing: just a strike here, just a strike there? Some unhappy tenants over here or some nice mutual aid efforts over here? Or should we provide the material and symbolic support for what workers have already decided to do? We face an unprecedented crisis and millions of unemployed workers, tenants, essential workers, the poor are on the move. Let’s catch up with them.

The General Strike does not simply harken back to early 20th century models or follow normal union channels. The general strikes of long ago occurred before the US empire achieved its global dominance and stepped up the tactics of oppression used abroad against its own people at home. McCarthyism was that war at home and it went right for the labor movement’s throat. The 1947 Taft-Hartly “Slave Labor” Act essentially made general strikes led by existing unions illegal.

While corporations were always powerful it wasn’t until approximately 1980 that they finally completed their merger with the state placing their interests above and in direct opposition to all others.

For a more useful history, we should look to the waves of resistance that have occurred since the 1999 “Battle for Seattle.” Perhaps most important was the immigrant-led one-day general strike called the  “Great American Boycott.” On Mayday 2006 approximately one million people in 50 US cities avoided work, school and shopping to be part of one of the largest days of protest in American history.

In 2011, protests in Wisconsin were followed by Occupy which created millions of new activists around the world. The idea that we belonged to the 99% resonated with millions of people and gave new life to class consciousness and class solidarity by reinvesting “class” with its broadest possible meaning. Economic democracy became a mass aspiration.

The General Strike is much closer to the never-realized ideal of social movement unionism in which workplace struggles must be connected to social movements if we want to win.

But whatever historical examples you find important, today’s General Strike is based upon an actually existing resistance movement. General Strike 2020 introduced their efforts by saying:

We started this organization after we saw working class people launch a wave of labor strike and rent strike actions across the world in response to the severe negligence of our “leaders” as the pandemic has emerged. We were inspired into action by the workers and tenants and debtors who have already begun fighting and the hundreds of mutual aid systems which have spontaneously popped up everywhere.

There have been over 150 strikes since March 2020. These are the latest episode in a rapid upswing in strike activity since 2018. Many of these strikes are wildcats where strikes occur before unions were formed or are on the margins of an existing union structure. This worker self-activity should push unions, and all of us, into action.

The General Strike is also the emerging strike support networks, the expanding and unprecedented rent strike movement, the approximately 1000 active Mutual Aid projects, strategic boycott efforts targeting Amazon, Wholefoods, Trader Joes, Walmart, Tysons and more. The General Strike also means alternative supply chains and resources produced by all sorts of communal efforts from community gardens to cooperatives such as Cooperation Jackson.

The Green Party and other parties outside of the chokehold of the two-party system have been rejuvenated. And the growth of third parties will continue to the degree that we turn ourselves into the electoral wing of the social movements — or in this case the electoral wing of the General Strike. The activists associated with Popular Resistance are playing just such a role commuting back and forth between the Green Party and General Strike.

The general strike is the sum of all these struggles.

The general strike may not live up to expectations or rigid categories based on backward-looking models, but in fact, it far exceeds them because it is based on the actually existing concrete conditions of this historical moment. We cannot love our categories more than we love the life that appears before us. While was must learn from history we do not get to go back in time.

We cannot disentangle the multiple social forces at work that produced the General Strike. In fact, the organizing task is just the opposite. By seeking synergy and building networks, we will discover the organizational forms that give life to solidarity. Can we innovate the next generation of the Original Rainbow Coalition or something like it?

Our moment is one of deep crisis and opportunity. Guess what? It’s tangled and messy. Making history always is. We don’t get to select the circumstances of our engagement with history, but engage we must.

The overarching goal of the General Strike is democracy: economic, workplace, and community democracy. Representative democracy is largely broken. Direct and participatory democracy — on a mass scale — is the best response to the deeply interlocking crisis of pandemic, climate chaos, empire, and corporate rule.

We need a mighty movement to transform the political climate. For that, we need a big coalition and the political skill to find unity without uniformity. Can we build a movement of movements? For that, we need the General Strike and we need all its many parts to stay in motion.

 

 

Posted in American Culture, Capitalism, Climate Change, Cooperation, Corporate Power, electoral strategy, Empire, Green Party, History, Labor Movement, Military, Movement Culture, organizing, Organizing Strategy, Red Scare, revolutionary strategy, Socialism, union organzing, unions, White Supremacy, Working Class | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

General Strike v. Fear and Fatalism

The General Strike is already underway. It will test us all. The big question: Is there any shred of democracy left in America? Only you can answer that. Only you can decide what course of action is best for you. But know this: the greatest enemies we face are not the oligarchs or their police or propagandists or politicians — it is the fear and fatalism within us that breeds silence and makes the millions surrender before the power of the few.

Posted in Organizing Strategy | Leave a comment

Strike, Sick Out, Slow Down: The General Strike and You.

Also at Counterpunch.

The strike, sick out, and slowdown are among the most effective weapons in the arsenal of class struggle. They disrupt production and interrupt the flow of profits. But the most effective weapons are also the most demanding. Strikes require discipline, sacrifice, and struggle. Strikes are short-term pain for long-term gain. It’s not a coincidence that as strikes fell out of use over the last few decades the US working class fell too.

Striking for Life: Protect the Front-line, Not the Bottom Line.

The most dramatic examples of the General Strike are the many wildcat strikes across the country. Follow the action at On The Picket Line or check out this interactive map of strike actions, or the “Dual Power” map by Black Socialists in America. Get in the loop and get connected at General Strike 2020.

If you are an essential worker and risking your life — talk to your co-workers. Form a clandestine strike committee and speak to, and listen to, everyone in the shop. A strike, sick-out, or slowdown can last a few hours, a day or indefinitely. Don’t hoodwink the workers into thinking it will be easy, but when life hangs in the balance the choice becomes clear.

Wildcats are strikes led by the rank and file workers, not union officials. This is a hidden strength. The kind of actions that were the backbone of the general strikes during the 20th century are now illegal — here in the land of the free. “Sympathy” or secondary strikes where workers strike — not out of a specific grievance with their own boss — but in solidarity with other strikers were made illegal. Russia-gate’s forerunners — the anti-communist purges of the Cold War and McCarthyism gave us the 1947 Taft-Hartley “slave labor act” that tamed the labor movement. Until this day, union officials that call sympathy strikes are treated as criminals — but the wildcats strikes have no official leaders.  

In all those years since 1947 Democrats made not a single serious attempt to repeal Taft- Hartley. Maybe we can repeal it through direct action. Anyone who knows this history knows that Russia-gate and China-hate is no friend to the US working-class. 

How can we help strikers?

Local efforts may be best. You can support your local strikers by setting up a “gofundme” account for them. Mask up and observe physical distance, but show up at picket lines with food and beverage. Join your local Mutual Aid team and help back up strikers.

Learn from our new leaders. Do what the strikers ask you to do. They know best.

Strategic boycotts in alignment with strikers are an important way to slow profits — the main form of leverage strikers have. Boycott Bezos for starters.

Sick Out and Slow Down

For at-home workers, the sick out and slow down are tailor-made for you. Call in sick sometime in the first week in May. Mild symptoms; a day or two, severe; a week or more. How sick are you? Only you know. Get it? Or, take a sick day, go back for one, then take another sick day. Can’t take the whole day, take half a day. Can’t take half a day just slow down — cut your production in half or more.

Almost all stuck-at-home workers I speak with are having symptoms due to isolation and confinement. Time for a mental health day? You owe yourself one.

One of the classic slowdown tactics is “Work to Rule.” Workplace rules are usually the product of the Human Relations department meant to put a liberal face on exploitation. But these rules often slow down production and are routinely ignored by management and worker alike. Study your “handbook” and find the weakness. Sometimes you can actually slow down by following the rules.

Resistance

Working people have always resisted. Unfree workers, like slaves, developed forms of resistance to oppose slave owners. We can use the same kinds of resistance to oppose corporate power.

  • Pilfer. “Steal” it back to reclaim value the boss stole from you in the first place. Let the bosses pay.
  • Sabotage. Break your tools. Delete paperwork. Use stealth and cunning. Don’t get caught.
  • Shamming. Bullshit them. Behind your smile is the strike.

Show solidarity with the general strike.  Have a strike poster in your apartment window. Wear a red or black or lavender bandana. Change your Facebook cover image.

We have to rely on the creativity and power of the people. I am confident we will figure it out. The general strike has no central committee and that is probably a good thing since no one has all the answers. Let the people decide. You can best determine the kind of action you can take.

Just remember: whatever small step you take, you are part of something bigger. And the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

No one can do everything but everyone can do something.

 

 

Posted in Capitalism, Corporate Power, History, Labor Movement, Movement Culture, organizing, Organizing Method, Organizing Strategy, revolutionary strategy, Strategy, unions, Working Class | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SOS — Save our Sailors and Soldiers! Stop the Spread of Covid-19

By Bob Witanek and Richard Moser


US military rank and file soldiers and sailors are being ravaged by an invisible enemy — the same enemy that is killing civilians across the country – COVID-19.

The quandary for the US: maintain readiness to launch war and continue to support the many imperialist objectives the US is pursuing in places like Venezuela, Iran, Syria, Yemen, the Asian Sea, Europe, Africa, Latin America, etc. . . . or take seriously the wholesale threat of COVID-19 to the lives of US GIs and sailors. 

The Pentagon is suppressing the breadth of the infection of its rank and file forces and mostly disregarding any real effort to minimize their casualties.

The US does not want the rest of the world – that it constantly bullies, invades, bombs, and threatens to know that it is militarily vulnerable right now due to the depleted morale and health of the rank and file.  It is ignoring COVID-19 – but it is not going away – it is starting to kill its own troops.

The strategy of downplaying the crisis is having the opposite effect since the COVID-19 is becoming so rampant it is being widely reported. No longer can it be kept secret from the nations and peoples the US is killing and threatening. More important – this murderous US strategy could lead to the deaths of hundreds, maybe even thousands of US troops. 

No doubt, the threat of dying from COVID-19 and the willful neglect of command is on the mind of GIs and sailors who are cramped in their quarters. The blow out on the Teddy Roosevelt Aircraft carrier that arose after the leak of Captain Crozier’s letter, which was written after the brass refused his requests to take life-saving action, raised the alarm.  Since then one of the sailors on the carrier has died and several hundred are sick. The carrier is not war-worthy and it represents the abject failure of the Pentagon to protect its crew. A more sober analysis would likely call it willful negligence and premeditated murder. The Pentagon is no stranger to collateral damage.

When Captain Crozier was dismissed and made to walk the plank, the crew came to the deck and cheered and chanted. The unruliness demonstrates that the sailors might have things other than duties on their minds — like trying not to get killed by COVID-19. 

Several days after Crozier’s dismissal from his post, Navy Acting Secretary Modly visited the same carrier and called Captain Crozier stupid and idiotic during a speech to the crew — he was heckled and cussed out by sailors in attendance. Mody was soon dismissed from his position for failing to manage the situation. Once again, rank and file soldiers were in open defiance of authority. Sadly, Captain Crozier himself has been diagnosed with COVID-19.

The Pentagon has demonstrated its worries over this state of affairs among the rank and file, warning “enemy” nations from attacking:

“We’re still capable and we’re still ready no matter what the threat,” Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley said recently. “I wouldn’t want any mixed messages going out there to any adversaries that they can take advantage of an opportunity, if you will, at a time of crisis,” he added. “That would be a terrible and tragic mistake if they thought that.”

 

What the Pentagon misses is that it is caught in a double bind: increases in military activities will only increase the spread of COVID-19 further weakening US military power. The pandemic has magnified the contradictions of empire: imperial overreach sows the seeds of its own destruction.

It is time to do everything possible to save the lives of troops and sailors whose health and safety is being disregarded by the US so as not to appear weak before its many chosen adversaries.

The US must suspend its focus on warfare and empire and instead focus on saving the lives of as many GI’s and sailors as possible. The following demands should be widely communicated to the public, veterans and to active-duty soldiers and sailors.

 

  • Quarantine entire armed forces – suspend all hostile operations.
  • Testing and medical support for all military personnel
  • Training and logistical support for hospitals, clinics, shelters, and neighborhood medical surveys – not repression but total medical coverage. 
  • All of the healthy get redeployed in a civilian effort to save the maximum number of lives — under civilian command, without arms.
  • Transportation and deliveries of food and supplies to sick and/or homebound
  • Harvest of the crops where civilian workers are sick or not available.

The ranks would be totally engaged in the service of the people under civilian control.

As we struggle to save the maximum number of lives – as we make plans to resist the bipartisan effort to prematurely “open up America” and let the virus “coarse through the population” (possibly killing millions) – we need to actually work to save the lives of the troops. While we do not know the exact casualty count, we know it is growing. The GIs and sailors should know that we are ready to struggle to save their lives while it is the brass that willfully neglecting their safety and medical needs.

But the biggest question remains: Will soldiers and sailors join the General Strike? We shall see. But if the military rebels it will shake the empire itself.  


Further links:

 
https://www.businessinsider.com/coronavirus-navy-evacuates-roughly-80-of-uss-theodore-roosevelt-crew-2020-4?utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=sf-bi-main&fbclid=IwAR2qIYrn4NgAdN_3Fp5qYcOr4y42Ag2Srczjdy3kyu28JVcTbDUfQsDfu_k

https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/04/13/833308068/sailor-on-uss-theodore-roosevelt-dies-from-covid-19-complications?fbclid=IwAR2Ox1vsBUM33KlWNC3ZB8sxgdH2su7qsqg5x4Ql7TqetG9lUuKdrfhuZJ0

https://nationandstate.com/2020/04/11/top-pentagon-generals-warn-enemies-not-to-attack-as-150-bases-impacted-by-covid-19/?fbclid=IwAR2o_AJechy3cbnKPx28iq1Xl2Eey_3FVxLRU_68v5dV5yu6fNsIjEPnKsc 

 

https://taskandpurpose.com/news/navy-uss-theodore-roosevelt-morale?fbclid=IwAR2Aa2KmXGBl0lraKSSXsf_fd1Dx2F5DqIQGpFxq-y0jqw8-2WxtiKD5u5w

https://www.defenseone.com/news/2020/04/the-d-brief-april-09-2020/164486/

https://www.blackagendareport.com/uss-covid-19-guam-puget-sound 


Bob Witanek is founder of #NJAntiWarAgenda and is coordinating a demand that #WeWillDecide opposing corporate-driven demands to force a rise in COVID-19.  He recently released a song “Breathe” with some commentary which you can view here.

Richard Moser writes at befreedom.co and is a contributor to Counterpunch

 

Posted in Empire, Military, Movement Culture, Organizing Method, Organizing Strategy, Strategy, War, War creates Climate Change, Working Class | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

From Strike Wave to General Strike

Above photo: Yasmine James (center with microphone), the McDonald’s worker attacked while working at a St. Petersburg restaurant, spoke to a crowd at a worker rally Tuesday. Spectrum News image. Thanks to Popular Resistance.

Also in Counterpunch and Popular Resistance.

The strike wave is here. The strike wave is real.  Can workers take the next steps toward a General Strike?

The current crisis is a rare opportunity for us to build a movement both outside of electoral politics and based on an organizing model. That matters because the biggest shortcoming of the left and the social movements is our lack of organizing.

Organizing can do what good intentions or radical theory or electoral campaigns cannot: turn solidarity from a dream into a living thing. But without some serious solidarity, all our hopes for a General Strike will fail to materialize.

As we build the solidarity infrastructure needed for a General Strike lets not lie to each other. It’s called “class struggle” for a reason. Strikes are painful with workers pitting their sacrifice and suffering up against the bosses’ profits. Strikes are no party.

But, general strikes, while rare, are a good match for the unprecedented interlocking crises we face. There is an answer to our problems. It’s the age-old working-class answer: “solidarity forever.” But, never forget that solidarity is forged in sacrifice too. Solidarity is not simply passing a resolution or staking a claim — it is actions like boycotts or mutual aid efforts or sending money to those at the front lines or going on strike yourself.

The Strike is Back

After a long period of retreat, the strike has returned with a vengeance. In 2018 West Virginia teachers kicked off a strike wave the likes of which we have not seen for decades. And like today’s strikes, the leadership is coming from the rank and file — not union officials.

 

In this moment of pandemic panic strikes and unrest are focused on immediate demands. We want a general strike and that is a great thing but we have to pave the way between the largely defensive strikes that actually exist and the political offensive that is the heart of a general strike.

General strikes contest for power by explicitly raising class consciousness and proposing system-wide reform, economic democracy, maybe even social transformation. The political task is to build the transition between the defensive strike wave and the offensive general strike we need. We can find the path by starting down the trailhead right in front of us.

If we want to engage people we have to listen carefully to what they say and do. The strongest currents of resistance that I see are actions, demands, and tactics around the immediate life and death questions of safety, protection, and survival:

  • Protective equipment, sick benefits, hazard pay.
  • Strike as “sick out” that withholds labor until we break the back of the pandemic. 
  • Strikes, slowdowns, rolling job actions or staying home. Let the workers decide.
  • Increase wages for essential workers.
  • The conversion of production to ventilators or masks or tests.
  • Universal health care  
  • No rent, no evictions, no vacancies
  • Mutual Aid to serve the people

These may be immediate demands but in them we can imagine the possibilities of the General Strike. In these demands, (and in the bosses’ rush to get us back to work) we can see that labor creates all wealth. We can see that workers are essential and bosses are disposable. When workers demand that they switch production to ventilators or masks — the seeds of worker control are taking root. Housing and health care are revealed as demands of direct interest to everyone, not just a moral stand. If the General Strike is the front-line, Mutual Aid is the quartermaster providing aid and comfort to the troops. Mutual Aid shows us what a democratic economy looks like.

Taken together these actions and demands are the beginnings of a struggle for economic, workplace and community democracy. Call it Freedom and Democracy, call it Socialism or Revolution, call it Reason or call it Treason — I don’t care what you call it.

Its Solidarity Forever or General Strike Never

“If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” ― Lilla Watson

Solidarity is not simply good intentions or the fine speeches that politicians sometimes make. Solidarity grows by acting on the principle that “your liberation is bound up with mine.” With solidarity, a new world is possible — without it we surrender to corporate power.

By all means, have your steering committee pass a resolution but real solidarity can only be achieved by organizing and activism. Here are a few possibilities:

  • We need to coordinate strategic boycotts targeting Amazon, Whole Foods and other corporate criminals. We need a huge email list and a website updated daily to select targets and coordinate timing.  Who will take up this work?
  • In 2016 the Sanders campaign proved that a presidential campaign could be crowdfunded by millions of small donations. Can we set up a funding mechanism to funnel money to striking workers trying to last “one day longer” than the boss?
  • Solidarity with strikers means building networks, coalitions, Mutual Aid and communal efforts, and Unemployed Councils.

The Crisis Cannot Be Resolved by Normal Means

When compared with the narrow vision of the electoral arena (with the vast majority of politicians from both major parties still opposing universal healthcare) even these initial spontaneous uprising are full of ideas for redistributing wealth and power. Even in the depths of the crisis, unanimous Congressional action could deliver nothing greater than temporary cash payments so meager as to exaggerate the very wealth inequality that made our world unsustainable in the first place.

These tasty crumbs are welcomed aid to workers but were also a good move by the ruling class to calm things down. Without real resistance, our rulers got away with tossing us the bare minimum necessary to engineer consent so they could gain a far bigger prize: the further consolidation of 40 years of corporate power.

It’s not that progressive Democrats produced nothing. They moved the discourse in important ways. But the unanimous consent to the corporate bailout signals the limits of even well-meaning electoral activity under existing conditions. And that is why the strike wave is so important. Direct action gets the goods. And, the torch is passed back from celebrities and politicians to the unknown everyday people that were always the true leaders of the working-class.   

The left needs Ella Bakers’ vision. Do we have the capacity to “pick up the pieces or put together pieces?” 

What will help the millions move? What will build the capacity for self-organization? We need to learn and quick. Because it is when millions move — then and only then — that we will unleash the enormous creative energies of the people. They will find the way forward.

The people are telling us where to find them. Can we catch up? Its due time for all organizers to engage, listen, learn from and stand with our new leaders. There is no greater solidarity than this.

 

 

 

Posted in Capitalism, Cooperation, Corporate Power, electoral strategy, Empire, Labor Movement, Movement Culture, organizing, Organizing Method, Organizing Strategy, Prefigurative politics, revolutionary strategy, Socialism, Strategy, unions, Working Class | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Russia-gate: The Dead But Undead

Attention all Russia-gaters! Under the cover of pandemic, the US finally dropped charges against those dastardly Russian meme-bombers! 

Just in case you think this is yet another conspiracy led by Trump’s DOJ to hide something, the case against the troll farm fell apart 2 years ago when Mueller was still in charge. It’s been in limbo ever since but as the trial approached the DOJ killed the case. In a sane world, this would be the final nail in its coffin but the Russia-gate zombie is useful — so it rises again.

Russia-gate Dies

In May 2018, Concord Management, one of the indicted firms, pleaded innocent and went to court to clear its name. Concord’s lawyers had the audacity to ask for evidence as part of the normal legal procedure of “discovery.” Discovery means that both parties must exchange all the information and facts relating to the case at hand. Otherwise, legal defense is impossible.

Since we have no extradition treaty with Russia, the troll farmers could have safely stayed in Russia. Apparently, Mueller was betting that would be the case. 

Who would be foolish enough to voluntarily come to the US to stand trial for one of the most notorious crimes of the century? Well, Concord Management did; they called Mueller’s bluff.

In a propaganda campaign filled with one “bombshell,” after another, these events were so underreported that many people never heard of them. Why? Well, this bombshell blew up the Russia-gate narrative. And when reported at all it was spun as yet another Russian attempt to weaponize “secret” materials.

Mueller’s double-speak as to why he suspended the case is identical to what the DOJ’s spin is today. Both Mueller and the DOJ are saying that to release the evidence of a threat to national security is itself a breach of national security — a threat that outweighs the alleged Russian meddling. In other words, informed Americans are more dangerous to the security of the state than Russians. This is completely in keeping with Edward Snowdon’s revelations about massive domestic spying.  As quoted in the Guardian Snowdon said:

“Why are we intercepting more American communications than we’re intercepting Russian communications?”

Like the NSA, both Mueller and the DOJ’s actions treat the American public as if we are their targets. Police actions speak louder than police words

We can only conclude that Mueller never intended to prosecute the only example of Russian influence he could come up with.

 

Russia-gate Rises

No weapon as potent as Russia-gate will be put to rest over the lack of a little thing like evidence.

Who does Russia-gate serve? Who does this cover-up serve? It serves the purposes of the state. The intelligence community — of which Mueller is a leader — has seen itself as the gatekeepers of what the public should know and believe since the 1950s. Russia-gate serves the purpose of this once-hidden force that has now become a powerful and independent actor in American politics.

Recent events reveal the increasingly overt meddling and intervention of the secret police forces in domestic affairs. Here are a few choice examples. 

On the eve of the Nevada primary, the Washington Post tells us that the Russians are helping Sanders. Who says so? The police. How are they helping exactly? The police could not say. 

Ever the faithful servants of the state, the New York Times piled on with more Russia connect the dots smears on Sanders. Bloomberg carried the slander into the debates. Hillary Clinton, one of the architects of Russia-gate, smeared Tulsi Gabbard as a Russian asset, who, in a rare act of political courage, sued Clinton and waged a public counter-attack on Russia-gate and the abuses of the intelligence agencies.  

Soon after, on the eve of Super Tuesday, a joint statement from eight police agencies made yet another fact-free intervention in the election by — you guessed it — warning about election meddling. It seems the intelligence community is more interested in king-making than finding out about the coronavirus. Apparently, subversive thoughts are far more dangerous than pandemics for the security of the state. 

Then comes the Biden endorsement. In what The Washington Post called a “break with tradition” 100 former intelligence agents and other members of the national security state have publicly endorsed Biden. As quoted in the Independent:

“Margaret Henoch, a former CIA officer…agreed that a public endorsement is “absolutely” unheard of for career professionals.”

And leading this unheard-of endorsement is James Clapper. As former Director of National Intelligence, he was boss of all 17 secret police forces. Clapper is an unindicted perjurer that lied to Congress about the massive spying on everyday Americans by the National Security Agency. As reported in the Independent, Clapper repeats the core message of the Biden campaign:

“I just think he would represent if elected, a restoration of normality to the country,” 

Dude knows how to toe the party line and to deceive. Whether its “Normality,” or MAGA any return to the past is simply not in the cards. “Normal” cannot be purchased at any price or with any degree of power. Mother nature will see to that. The pandemic is just a prelude to irreversible climate chaos. Ten years — tick, tick, tick.

Break with Tradition or Abuse of Power?

It is not simply a break with tradition but yet another step in the long history of the abuse of power. The executive branch has grown so large, it has overwhelmed anything even resembling the Constitutional separation of powers or checks and balances. We have the empire to thank for that.

And since 9/11 the power of the intelligence community has grown even greater. The Patriot Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act institutionalized police powers to spy on all Americans. In words we could apply to the pandemic crisis, the American Civil Liberties Union states:

“In the aftermath of the September 11th attacks the FBI sought to rid itself of these legal restraints and expand its investigative and intelligence collection capabilities. Acting during a period of fear and uncertainty, Congress, the White House, and the attorney general gave the FBI enhanced investigative and surveillance authorities…Other powers the FBI simply assumed for itself, often secretly, and at times in direct violation of existing laws.

Who and what benefits from Russia-gate? The corporate state and its need to destroy what little remains of our human rights.

Russia-Gate and Movement Strategy

Russia-gate works to distract us from our own problems; divide the progressive movement and set strict limits on dissent. Even Sanders pays tribute to the very weapons used against him by repeating the Russia-gate mantra. For a campaign so focused on completing the mission of the first New Deal, it is a self-inflicted wound. The first New Deal remains unfinished precisely because of Russia-gates’ predecessors: the Cold War and McCarthyism.

The most effective assault on the New Deal was aimed directly at the working class. The 1947 Taft-Hartley Act (which even the Cold Warrior President Truman called the “slave-labor act”) purged the socialists and communists leading 18 CIO unions, banned key tactics and strategies and promoted “right to work” laws.

In the larger context, Taft-Hartley increased the power and rights of management while limiting all forms of workplace and economic democracy. Taft-Hartley was passed despite Truman’s veto by a powerful coalition of Democrats and Republicans. It’s the last major labor law “reform” this country has seen. 

The second New Deal will not be born if we swallow the same poison that killed the first New Deal. 

The collapse of the Russian collusion story also illustrates the total bankruptcy of the choices made by the DNC after 2016. They preferred the high drama and wild accusations of Russia-gate and the New Cold War to healthcare, election reform or positive programs of any kind.

Russia-gate’s aim is to enforce ideological discipline and silence criticism. But without criticism, people failed to learn the lessons of 2016. That failure is clear in the selection of Biden who represents the repetition of the old electoral strategy.

While it’s understandable to cling to a winning strategy it is stupid to cling to a losing one. Even a winning strategy can turn into a losing one if armies fight using the methods of the last war. Winning armies, on the other hand, fight the war they are actually in. And that requires a clear-eyed assessment of the conditions we currently face. 

The war we are actually in will increasingly demand the creation of mass movements, coalitions of all kinds, local communal efforts, mutual aid networks, organizing projects and third parties especially now after the frontal assault on the Democrats and the Presidency seems blocked.

We face uncertainty, risk, and danger. But whatever the outcomes of this unpredictable pandemic and the chaotic, rigged Democratic primary may be — and even if Sanders can defeat the DNC and Trump both — any progressive political agenda will be in jeopardy without massive outside pressure. In any case, we need to outflank the ruling class with a mighty army of activists coordinated with but outside of the electoral arena.

 

 

 

Posted in American Culture, Capitalism, Climate Change, Corporate Power, electoral strategy, Electoral Strategy for 2016, Empire, History, Labor Movement, Movement Culture, organizing, Organizing Strategy, Red Scare, revolutionary strategy, Socialism, Strategy, unions, War, Working Class | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Inside is Connected to the Outside: The Inside/Outside Strategy Revisited

 

The Inside/Outside Strategy (IOS) claims we need to work both inside and outside the dominant order to win. Most critiques of IOS correctly point to the shortcomings and dangers of working within the system. But, this weakness is also a reflection of the lack of powerful outside movements to recruit and discipline inside actors. If the outside isn’t working the inside isn’t working either. That said, far too many hopes, dreams, and dollars have been invested in inside work — elections in particular.

Working inside does not mean climbing the career ladder, joining some political machine, or aiming no higher than mere reform. Inside work, done well, means identifying the conflicts and divisions within the power structure and pushing on them. It means intensifying the struggle, working around obstacles and organizing outside the centers of power. Inside work does not have to mean giving up on revolutionary change. It should mean just the opposite.

But one part of the concrete conditions we cannot ignore is the reality that different people and tendencies will, in fact, work different angles. Some might focus either too far inside or too far outside the existing order for our tastes but we should aim toward greater synergy and coordination between the two. The trick is to learn to keep one foot in each world. Walk the razor’s edge.

For those critical of working within the Democratic Party, for example, our task is to build up our capacity for mass movements, local communal projects, and third parties. Organizing projects are far more important than winning the debate about where to concentrate forces.

 

“Inside” the Academic Labor Movement

The first front –the struggle for adjunct rights and against the two-tiered labor system — was the most important. When I started in 1998, the adjunct movement was coming into its own. I had a movement I could relate to, advocate for and help to organize. Without that outside force, there would have been nothing and no ground for an insider like me to stand on.

The adjunct faculty had been — and still are — dispossessed: unions rarely represent them well and often comply with workplace rules that actually hurt them. Adjuncts work for poverty wages, lack health care and are always fifteen minutes away from total humiliation. Sometimes students are their only true allies.

The second front was confronting management. Higher education managers adopt the ways and means of the corporation. Their arrogance and cruelty are so vicious it’s hard to make sense of.

Management understands what union officials usually don’t; the adjuncts are a crucial source of cheap labor and a wedge to weaken the entire workforce. To the bosses, adjuncts are a class enemy to which they will give no quarter. University management — liberals all — led the race-to-the-bottom replacing good jobs with bad, transferring wealth to the top and saddling generations of students with bad debts and dismal futures.

The last and most challenging front was dealing with conservative union officials that represented a small, influential, but deeply misguided segment of the tenured faculty. With some very notable and very honorable exceptions many of the official types, both elected leaders (many union elections are uncontested) and staff, avoided the issues or dragged their feet — a few were outright sellouts.

Very few union leaders play an effective inside role because they want to control the more radical rank and file rather than leverage their power. Instead, the savvy inside leader tells the boss: “I cannot control these people so if you don’t want a strike you better start throwing concessions our way.” But since control over members is tied to their own power most union officials squander rank and file pressure.

As the percentage of hires off the tenure-line grew year after year — replacing the secure with the vulnerable — a cultural shift eased the faculty’s surrender to the new order. The tenured faculty were all too eager to turn tenure from a right designed to defend academic freedom into a privilege rewarding hard work, intellectual prowess and merit.

What is “merit” other than the morality of the so-called “free market?” And, it has a powerful appeal. Who doesn’t want a merit badge? Why do you think so many academic radicals still believe that the free-market is a description of reality? Once privilege and merit replaced workplace rights the tenured faculty behaved much as other privileged groups do when tempted by the comforts of merit and the delusions of class collaboration.

Three Fronts in a War of Maneuver

Now, don’t take this analogy too far, but back when unions had real power they did not just fight scabs on the picket line. They sent their very best organizers into the shop to talk with and educate the strikebreakers, who were, after all, just workers in desperate need of a decent wage and class consciousness.

Whether its labor unions or the Democratic Party, don’t go “inside” unless you are ready to fight on three fronts and deal with the intense contradictions that struggle requires. Keep the shifting relationships between inside and outside foremost in your mind. If the connections weaken or break, you weaken or break.

Should people work inside or outside?  A good organizer usually encourages people to follow their own political instincts. When moved by the courage of their own convictions, people are more likely to do something — anything — and that activism will always be the best teacher.

 

 

 

Posted in American Culture, Green Party, History, Labor Movement, Movement Culture, Organizing Method, Organizing Strategy, Prefigurative politics, revolutionary strategy, Socialism, Strategy | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments