How Do We Organize A Hundred Million?

Also, find this at PopularResistance and CounterPunch

First in a series: How Do We Organize a Hundred Million?


How Do We Organize a Hundred Million?

The strategic considerations discussed in this series of posts assumes that it will take a hundred million activist in the US and many hundreds of millions more worldwide to make revolution. Real politics begin where there are millions, many millions.

We will need millions to overwhelm, undermine and dismantle the machine. And we will need millions to create viable alternatives by building communities with independent control over their water, food, energy, and incomes. There is just so much to be done.

The corporate power, military-industrial complex, corporate media, mass surveillance, seventeen secret police forces, global empire, and the vast militarized penal system — all coordinated, regulated, and managed by the two-party system — is perhaps the most deeply entrenched power structure in world history.

The consequences of this power: the collapse of democracy, environmental catastrophe, endless war, and untold suffering. If current trends continue, the established order is likely to be an existential threat to every county, culture, and life-form. Oh yes, we need millions to change the world.

But this power structure is a product of our history. It is not immortal or monolithic. The internal division exposed by the election of loose cannon and demagogue Trump and the bankruptcy of the corporate Democrats is on full display for any with clear eyes to see.

When in US history have secret police forces openly chosen sides in a US election? The point of the deep state is that it governs us out of sight and out of mind. When a trusted guardian of the establishment, such as Chuck Schumer, reveals on prime-time TV that the so-called intelligence community has the capacity to retaliate against Trump then the curtain is truly torn. Either the internal divisions are terribly desperate or Schumer feels that people are so profoundly ignorant of the fundamentals of democracy that the illusion is no longer worth maintaining. Or both.

Not since the confusion and disarray caused by the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War has a division within the ruling class been so open. How permanent these divisions remain to be seen but one thing is sure: no matter how bankrupt, criminal, or dangerous the US government has become, that alone will not guarantee the resurgence of pro-democracy movements.

The Democrats for example are struggling to gain control over the movement against Trump and reconstitute themselves on the old basis of corporate power.

While it is important to point out how deep the crisis goes, objective conditions alone will not create the next American revolution.

Ideas and ideologies do matter, but if we are to contest power then we need to go beyond ideological rigor and moral positions. We need a strategy the can help us build movements large and visionary enough to disrupt the inner workings of the corporate and imperial machines driving us so relentlessly toward social and environmental disaster.

The unspoken assumption of the US left is that the right analysis, correct ideology, precise political definitions, or righteous moral positions on the issues will somehow translate into power. We have devoted enormous energy to all those things for decades yet somehow they are not enough.

Instead, we need to complement our ideological and utopian visions with a more strategic sensibility based on the existing conditions and existing social movements. We should look not just at the goal or ideal we desire but study the movement itself. How and why do people move? How is consciousness raised? It takes more than winning a debate or being right.

When we move to contest space and contest power then we contest ideas in ways far more meaningful than by discourse alone. The new civil rights movement, Standing Rock and the environmental movement it is leading, and a reemerging movement of soldiers and veterans are good indicators, among others, that the contest over power and space has begun. The point is not what ideas constitute the right analysis, the point is what strategy will get millions of people to take action. When the multitudes move then school is really in session.

A useful strategy can help us learn from — and guide us through — what will undoubtedly be a time of immense volatility, fluidity, and creativity. We are already seeing natural, political, and cultural upheaval and disruption and the trends promise more, much more.

With that in mind, a provisional strategy could begin with the inside/outside strategy as a framework for organizing; universal values as destiny and primary rhetorical strategy; and transformation/reconstruction as the historical measure and most likely mode of revolutionary change.

A working theory of revolution must take into account the deep contradictoriness and abiding contingency that is the hallmark of revolution. It is doubtful whether strict ideological standards, moral striving, or machine politics can produce the kinds of creative strategy and tactics necessary to navigate rapidly shifting circumstances. It is unlikely that the revolution will proceed according to our expectations. We must learn to navigate stormy seas or drown.

Next: Learning From the Bern


Second post in the series: How Do We Organize A Hundred Million? Learn from the Bern: Learn the Inside/Outside Strategy

The inside/outside strategy is a way to learn as events unfold. It is important that we learn from, work with, and leverage positions we do not entirely agree with.1 Otherwise we are assuming we have already arrived at the “Truth,” when the state of the world — and the state of the movement — strongly suggests otherwise.

The most important political consideration is this: millions of Americans are learning the power of the people. We are learning that engagement, activism, participation and contest produce power, not silent consent or the passive consumption of whatever the machines offer. The people can make history.  The Sanders campaign is a school and it needs to remain in session.

The inside/outside strategy recommends diversity in organizing methods and approaches. So let’s try to learn the inside/outside strategy from the historically unprecedented presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders.

Sanders starts from a position outside of, or on the very margins of, the Democratic Party. Without his decades as an independent and social democrat, Sanders would not have the capacity to give voice to long-standing grievances or propose policy solutions. That independence is the ultimate source of his appeal. Sander’s independence from the big money and the big machine won the hearts and minds of millions by proving it was possible to be an honest leader with a positive view of the future. Yes, he ran as a Democrat, and we do risk him bringing some of his supporters back into line. But it is also his best first path to the presidency. It’s a gamble we will have to take and an offer we cannot refuse.

While we cannot predict the future, contingency planning is essential.

As of May 2016, victory is still possible and appears more probable. It is vitally important that Sanders activists push hard to win the nomination.  In addition to the mountain of evidence that Clinton’s politics will keep us on the path to disaster,  Clinton is looking more and more the loser against Trump.   The email scandal, election fraud, and a pattern of deception and lies in the face of the State Department report; the Clinton machine seems hell-bent on self-destruction.

The inside/outside strategy is demanding. The Sanders surge must pull out all stops on the remaining primaries, court the super-delegates with promises and threats, step up political criticism of the Clinton machine, build for massive protests in Philadelphia, while simultaneously exploring the possibility of a Sanders/Stein ticket. We could, after all, also win with a Green Sanders.

The question is not whether we need a new political system: the question is what is the path forward.

The Bernie or Bust Pledge, over 100,000 strong, is pushing for Sanders or Green Party in case he does not win the Democratic nomination. Bernie or Bust is a leading example of strategic intervention aimed right at the nub of conflicting possibilities.  Socialist Alternative is also sponsoring a petition to encourage Sanders to run as independent or Green.

Still, without the Democratic label, the already stunting media blackout and bias would have been total censorship. Organizers and activists would still be searching for the millions of people Sanders has led in a revealing and educational electoral struggle.

And who can deny the fact that the Sanders campaign has made democracy, corporate influence, socialism or the crisis of the two-party system itself a greater subject of public discourse than any movement since Occupy at least and perhaps since the Sixties?

Without the Democratic run the Sanders surge would have faltered on the single quality most lacking the Greens and the social movements generally: a path to power that people can imagine as possible.   Starting with an independent campaign, as many radicals called for, would have presented nearly insurmountable obstacles in reaching the public.  Even as a Democrat, electability was the single greatest objection everyday people raised against Sanders.

Electability/viability/inevitability are central narratives for the corporate media for a reason: “inevitability” is a social control discourse limiting the expression of alternatives and the building of social movements alive with purpose and confidence.

In overcoming, or at least weakening, the electability discourse by expanding the horizon of what is possible, the Sanders campaign has paved the way for other challengers.  The Green Party, better positioned for growth than ever before, can win the 5% necessary for federal funding. 5% is a stepping stone to becoming a truly national party if the Green Party can learn to leverage the Sanders surge; regardless of the outcome. The Sanders surge is an unmistakable sign that millions of Americans, the young most of all, agree with Green Party values and ideals.

But, how could Sanders, or we, make the most of this campaign without trying our best to win the Democratic nomination? It is by pushing on to victory — or the bitter end — that millions of people will learn through their own experience the depths of corporate control and corruption of the electoral process.

The now likely contested convention is also fraught with risks and possibilities, but the massive demonstrations already planned for Philly are the most productive movement response.  Afterward, we can update the strategy based on the new facts on the ground.

Revolutionary strategy demands that we embrace Sanders’ contradictory role and make the most of it. It is precisely because Sanders gives expression to contradictory impulses and trends that millions of people can see him as a heroic figure. That makes Sanders the most important political leader in the US, win, lose or draw.

It is up to the social movements to strengthen the “outside” with vigorous resistance movements, civil disobedience and constructive alternatives. It is not a coincidence that the Communication Workers of America, had the vision to both wage and win a historic strike and to support Bernie Sanders when many unions caved into the Clinton machine and lowered expectations to incremental change.  How can we fight for $15 without fighting the machine?

Every twist and every turn holds an organizing opportunity if we can clear our minds from the straight and narrow. The challenging part for organizers is to not give in to the comfort of ideological clarity, easy answers, or machine politics. Stay in the discomfort zone. That is where strategy is discovered because contradictoriness is the actual condition of all social movements. And strategy must emerge from the material conditions at hand.

Can we can see beyond black and white, in or out, good and evil? Static binaries, like “either/or” will not serve us well. Can we master the demanding “both/and” approach of the inside/outside strategy, as well as Bernie, has?

Is Sanders a transformative leader or a “sheepdog” propping up the Democratic Party? The answer to that is not just Sanders to make. It’s what we do that matters.  If we “learn from the Bern” we should learn that political judgements are best made in the thick of it. The revolutionary organizer is simultaneously insider and outsider.

The inside/outside strategy values organizing and experimentation over the perfect but sparsely populated landscapes of the mind. If not ideological measures or machine politics, what concepts might help us to frame the way forward? Universal values.

1.The inside/outside strategy is a dialectical approach to action. Opposition and multiple viewpoints give us a lot to learn from.  And learn we must, because strategic organizing is the most challenging form of thought-in-action and the most needed.


Third in the Series: How Do We Organize a Hundred Million?

Universal Values Are Revolutionary Values

If we want to organize a hundred million, we must not only go where people live and work but also engage what they think and believe. And people believe in universal values.

In moments of revolutionary flux, the chaos and confusion of on-the-ground politics outruns the far-too-orderly confines of ideology. Perhaps this is why revolutionary movements cannot win the hearts and minds of millions of people without struggling toward Equality, Ecology, Peace, Love, Freedom, and Democracy.

We have heard these before and will likely hear their echoes:

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity

Peace, Bread and Land

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

We the People

Land and Liberty

All Men Are Created Equal

Workers of the World Unite

The revolutionary declarations of independence, from Ireland to Vietnam, are classic calls to freedom that mix universal values with patriotism. The Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh quoted the American Declaration of Independence’s assertion of inalienable human rights, which he interpreted to mean: “All the peoples on the earth are equal from birth, all the peoples have a right to live, to be happy and free.”

“…The true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love.” — Che Guevara.

Revolutionary Ghana‘s most popular slogan was “Freedom: Forward Ever, Backward Never.” Patrice Lumumba linked anti-imperialism and new forms of political identity together as “Independence and African Unity.”

Power to the People

Independence is more than freedom from empire or oppression. Independence is the power to achieve self-governance. In its Constitution, the United States asserts that power as belonging to “We the People.” For the Irish it’s “Sinn Féin” (“We  Ourselves.”) In Xhosa, South Africans chanted “Amanda Awethu!” (“Power is Ours!”) The Black Panthers’ “All Power to the People” became “Power to the People,” perhaps the most widely loved ideal in the movements of the Sixties and Seventies. Listen to John Lennon or Rootz Underground sing it.

All these revolutions — and many more — aspired to universal values and moved millions.  We need millions because the challenge is steep. Surely, we have lost our democracy.

It is… for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us….that this nation…shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. – Lincoln

Whether we look to the past or peer into the future, universal values will help us to find our way.

Today, the Green Party wisely advocates not ideology but universal values. The Green Party program is peace, ecology, social justice, democracy. It is this focus rather than ideological precision that gives the Green party its promise as a new mass political force.

Personally, I like Peace, Power, and Whole Earth.[1]

The Right to Revolution

Today, we need to reclaim an often overlooked universal value from the American revolutionary tradition. The right to revolution itself.

The Declaration of Independence insisted on revolution as both right and duty.

[W]henever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends [securing the people’s rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness], it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government . . . .[W]hen a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

James Madison, the principal author of the US Constitution, laid it out like this:

If there be a principle that ought not to be questioned within the United States, it is, that every nation has a right to abolish an old government and establish a new one. This principle is not only recorded in every public archive, written in every American heart, and sealed with the blood of a host of American martyrs; but is the only lawful tenure by which the United States hold their existence as a nation.[2]

On the verge of Civil War Abraham Lincoln looked straight at the right to revolution:

This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their Constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember it or overthrow it.” [3]

I rely on these flawed giants, sullied by slavery and white supremacy as they were because we can see further if we stand on their shoulders. From that vantage point, maybe our own terrible flaws can come more clearly into view: war, empire,  corporate power, ecocide, the new Jim Crow and slave-like prison labor in our vast militarized penal system. Despite many shortcomings, great Americans have always aspired to revolution as we still must now.

Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King innovated universal values of immediate strategic use: non-violence and peace. Massive nonviolent civil disobedience emerged as a transformative revolutionary strategy not simply because it was morally superior to war but because nonviolence promises a struggle that millions of people might risk participating in.

And it is only a revolution, made by millions, that will affect the sweeping transformations in consciousness necessary to change the world.  It will take the power of millions to reconstruct government, transform corporations into public utilities, build a new cooperative economy, and dismember the empire.  A hundred million activists are also necessary to safeguard against the reemergence of the hierarchies and political machines that have plagued history’s prior revolutions.  Massive, non-violent civil disobedience is inherently democratic.

E Pluribus Unum

Universal values are the best instruments for the solidarity and coordination of the “movement of movements” that is our future lest disaster come. Universal values increase our capacity to win the struggle for the hearts and minds of people from all walks of life.

Yes, universal values are capacious and open-ended but that’s exactly why they work. People are walking, talking contradictions without transparent perspectives or untroubled minds.

One hundred and thirteen years ago in The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Dubois identified the human experience of double-consciousness.

It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness….One ever feels his two-ness, an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body…

In the century since Dubois’s time of “two-ness,” political consciousness has done nothing but further multiply, complicate and fragment. For evidence, look no further than the social movements that have emerged since the Sixties.  Struggles over race, class, gender, sexuality, age, war, and empire have merged with Occupy, the Sanders revolution, and the new civil rights and student movements to weave a crazy quilt of democratic opposition and alternatives. We are polycentered, diverse, conflicted, variegated, fluid, and rapidly shifting. This is reality. It is a good thing.

Universal values accommodate the ambivalent nature of social identity because they do not have a singular meaning but instead have a multiplicity of meanings relevant to a broad range of social movements, identities, and communities. Different people see freedom and live freedom differently. Let it be and build on it.

With universal values as our revolutionary ideals —rather than an ideology—we may steer clear of, or at least minimize, endless polemics and needless schism. Universal values bring us closer to the minds of the millions and closer to transformative change. The world presses in. We cannot wait.

If revolution means freedom or equality or peace or a whole and healthy earth, then the path forward passes through every single community, identity,  movement, and history. We need to pursue each and every path. The history of the last half-century strongly suggests that political movements cannot be reduced to a singular perspective.

Both agreement and disagreement are the inescapable conditions of political life. In almost every political relationship there is both unity and struggle. We must embrace this. A revolutionary strategy must account for “both/and.” Universal values allow us to agree and disagree simultaneously as we work together in a rough and ragged harmony.

Let us fight on — rough and raggedy as we might be — for Freedom, Democracy, Ecology, and Equality.

[1] Richard Moser, New Winter Soldiers, p. 157-158.

[2] James Madison, Letters of Helvidius, no. 3, 1793.

[3]. Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address 1861.



The fourth and final post in the series:

How Do We Organize a Hundred Million?  

Click to read One, Two, Three.

Transformation and Reconstruction: the Means and Measure of Revolutionary Change

To organize millions, the revolution has to create, not destroy. Truly massive movements take shape around affirmations of goodness most powerfully represented by the promise of universal values. Our task is to fulfill this promise, recognizing that we doom our efforts to win people’s support and allegiance if we too often rely solely on criticism, resistance, and opposition.

It is a far, far better thing that we are authors of a new world rather than critics of the old one.

If we envision revolution as a radical departure or complete discontinuity from the existing world we are likely to both overlook real change and leave the millions behind. A transformative movement works on culture and works with history. Transformative movements recast and reconstruct cultural materials from the past and present to create a new world out of the world we have inherited.

To be a transformative organizer is to be a worker. As King suggested, “There is nothing to keep us from remolding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.”[ 1 ] With our hands and minds, we labor upon the existing world, making it into something new, while allowing the value of the raw materials to shine through. Transformation and reconstruction make another world possible starting from the world we are in.

Expectations for total change actually diminish the chances for real revolution by proposing changes without taking transition into account. Dreams of total change cannot be easily imagined or acted upon.  In their collective wisdom, the millions know you cannot tear one thing down without creating something else to put in its place.

Revolutions do not reject the past. Revolutionary organizers embrace the world because there is simply no other way of reworking culture. Conventional ideas of linear, mechanical, discontinuous change will not serve us well in times of revolutionary ferment. Static binaries such as past and present, old and new, or tradition and revolution reinforce the existing order while transformation and reconstruction of the past, the old, the traditional, is the signature of revolution.

While Karl Marx dreamed that future revolutions would make a clean break with the past, the actual revolutions he observed and interpreted in his life demanded the dialectical approach at the core of his philosophy. Consider Marx wrestling with history and revolution.

Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language….Thus the awakening of the dead in those revolutions served the purpose of glorifying the new struggles, not of parodying the old; of magnifying the given task in the imagination, not recoiling from its solution in reality; of finding once more the spirit of revolution, not making its ghost walk again.[2]

There is simply no escape from “circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.” As Americans, deep down underneath, we dream of escape to a new frontier where we can begin all over again, or that we were by some means “chosen,” and so feel ourselves outside of the contours of history. Escape, departure, specialness, uniqueness, and the rejection of history are essential to American Exceptionalism. Instead, we should use our “given and transmitted” history and culture to, “conjure up the spirits of the past,” for a purpose: “of magnifying the given task in the imagination,” “of finding once more the spirit of revolution.”

In order to achieve a true “revolution of values,” Martin Luther King counseled that Americans would have to build upon the spirit and promise of our revolutionary forbearers “to make democracy real and to follow through on the revolutions that we initiated.”[3] King recognized that we don’t need to invent this revolutionary spirit from scratch, we only need to recapture something once lost:

“The Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries…..Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal opposition to poverty, racism and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores and thereby speed the day when “every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places plain.[ 4 ]

By using the ideas of transformation and reconstruction we can better envision the process of historical change as the play between continuity and discontinuity or between tradition and innovation.

At the heart of the last American revolution, a movement of Vietnam-era soldiers and veterans opposed war and empire. Lead by patriotic volunteers they became “new winter soldiers” that remade and transformed the citizen-solder ideal. The anti-war soldier became the contemporary reenactment of a revolutionary figure created in the American Revolution and Civil War. The transformation ran so deep, it founded a permanent movement of military dissent. Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace, GI Rights Network, Military Families Speak Out, Votevets, the heroic stand of Chelsea Manning, and the insightful anti-imperialism of intellectuals like Andrew Bacevich and Danny Sjursen continue the revolution of the Sixties.

We should set our sights so high.

Not some nagging residue that must be overcome, cultural and historical traditions instead represent the inevitable grounds on which social change occurs and the raw materials from which new consciousness is constructed. Revolutions succeed when new, more inclusive and compelling versions of worn-out traditions take root by assuming the latent power and liberating vision of some frayed but classic ideal. [ 5 ]

How will we know revolution when we see it? When old things are made new again revolution is in the air. It’s the “re-” in “revolution.”

The experimental approach of the inside/outside strategy, alertness to transformation/reconstruction as the mode of revolutionary change,  universal values as a rhetorical framework and political ideal, and the recognition that our ideals and strategies must, of necessity, speak to a hundred million people and more, are four parts of a work in progress.

To make the changes we must make, we need to create a working theory of revolution. Perhaps “How Do We Organize a Hundred Million” is a beginning. You be the judge.

[ 1 ] Martin Luther King, Where do We go From Here?

[ 2 ] Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, 1852.

[ 3 ] Martin Luther King, Where Do We Go From Here?

[ 4 ] Martin Luther King, Where Do We Go From Here?

[ 5 ] Richard Moser, The World the Sixties Made p.44.