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Solidarity, "Regroupment and Renewal of a US Left" Solidarity, Founding Statement (excerpts) Freedom Road Socialist Organization, “Unity Statement” Jo Freeman, “The Tyranny of Structurelessness”
Regroupment & Refoundation of a U.S. Left
A Solidarity Draft Working Paper, July 2008 The opening of the 21st century finds the global working class, social movements, and revolutionary left in disarray. Yet, another world – one freed of exploitation, oppression, war and environmental catastrophe – is possible, and the need to fight for that world is as great as ever. This document attempts to summarize our experiences as members of Solidarity and to draw these lessons into suggestions for today. We lay this on the table and reach out to other anticapitalist activists, organizers and organizations also desirous of a larger, more powerful grouping committed to revolutionary change. Collective work and analysis is necessary to generalize our experiences and gain a greater understanding of the world we live in. Changing this alienating, dehumanizing profit-driven political and economic system requires an accurate understanding of our world and location of pressure points that can create openings for radical change. Socialists need organization to be effective. Since our founding in 1986, Solidarity has seen itself as an organization devoted to the rebirth of the left in the United States. At that time the U.S. organized socialist left was approaching its low ebb. In this 40th anniversary of the revolutionary tumult of 1968, it is important to recollect how then the worldwide upsurge spawned a proliferation of socialist organizations and parties, many attached to a particular country of “already existing socialism” (whether China, Cuba, Albania or the USSR). The overriding belief at the time was that the revolutionary process would continue to unfold. There were genuine differences on the left in this era, between radicals who identified with different historical currents (supporters of the USSR, of China, of Trotskyism, of various social-democratic trends), which led to legitimate ideological competition between different organizations. Too often, however, this spilled over into an unfortunate competition even among those who adhered to the same historical perspectives, leading to unnecessary factional warfare and splits. By the mid-‘80s, it was apparent that this cycle of radicalization had come to an end. At the time of Solidarity’s founding most of the organizations of the New Communist Movement had closed up shop.
The feminist and Black liberation movements had ebbed, as had other people of color-led movements, leaving behind a rich legacy of leadership and ideas.
Social Movements over the Last Two Decades
The re-emergence of the civil rights movement following World War II inspired and propelled forward all of the oppositional and liberation movements of the 1960s and ‘70s. After Jim Crow was defeated, the struggle for African-American freedom and self determination moved north. Here the movement faced considerable challenges confronting the myriad ways in which institutionalized racism is embedded in the country’s economic and social institutions. Some militants faced surveillance and state repression. Others were drawn into the Democratic Party, which systematically demobilized the mass movement responsible for winning significant concessions in the first place. The onslaught of neoliberalism was also particularly damaging to African-American communities in urban centers, as industry departed for the suburbs or the right-to-work states in the South. “Good” jobs declined. Poorer Blacks, unable or unwilling to leave cities like Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, Atlanta or New Orleans, were faced with deteriorating parks, libraries, schools and housing. Racism was the wedge whereby social programs won in the 1930s and ‘60s were cut, with the urban poor blamed for their deepening poverty. By the time Hurricane Katrina hit, lack of governmental assistance, both beforehand and afterward, perfectly symbolized the political marginalization of urban African Americans trapped in poverty. Even in the face of these tremendous difficulties, the political legacy of the Black freedom movement lives on through ideas and organization. Formations such as the Black Radical Congress, Million Worker March, and the recent Black Left Unity indicate a desire to regroup and renew a Black liberation agenda nationally. For draft-age youth in the 1960s opposition to the Vietnam War was a pivotal experience. The antiwar movement, like other movements, began as a minority but “infected” the general population, including U.S. soldiers at home and abroad. Many activists not only demonstrated against the war, but studied the history of U.S. intervention and saw the links between the war Washington waged in Vietnam and larger foreign policy. With the end of the Vietnam War and the collapse of the Portuguese revolution, two international struggles dominated the 1980s: southern Africa –specifically the struggle against South Africa’s apartheid regime and its military domination of the region – and Central America, with its revolutionary possibilities and the fight against Washington’s intervention. There was the promise of the 1979 Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua and
revolutionary upsurges in El Salvador and Guatemala, with Honduras a U.S. base for launching Reagan’s “low intensity war.” Throughout the 1980s a wide range of U.S. anti-intervention and solidarity networks, projects and coalitions sustained activity, with more than 100,000 U.S. citizens visiting, studying and working in Nicaragua alone. A few, like Ben Linder, lost their lives there. Many activists, including a large proportion of women, became radicalized in this process. Most did not come out of the traditional left. The flowering of mass-based community organizations in South Africa along with the founding in 1985 of COSATU, a federation of Black trade unions with an emphasis on shop-floor, democratic structures, produced a sustained struggle that included comprehensive sanctions against the South African government. Along with solidarity movements in other countries, the U.S. anti-apartheid movement grew and became strong enough to force universities to divest and secure passage of Congressional sanctions over President Reagan’s opposition. By 1990 the DeKlerk government was forced to unban political organizations and free Nelson Mandela. President Reagan’s firing of the air traffic controllers in 1981 set the stage for a quarter-century of strikes and lockouts, most of which (but not all) ended in concessions: PATCO, Phelps-Dodge, Greyhound, Hormel & P-9, Eastern Airlines, International Paper, the mineworkers at Pittston, Detroit newspaper strike, NYNEX, UPS, American Axle. These defensive struggles against corporate attack gave rise to a culture of solidarity and a diverse use of tactics including roving pickets, mass demonstrations, strike support committees, picket lines, sympathy strikes, civil disobedience, direct action, solidarity tours, boycotts, corporate campaigns and even a plant occupation at Pittston, West Virginia. While the victory at Pittston included defying a court injunction, the defeat of P-9 at Hormel signaled the gutting of militant unionism throughout the industry. In general the anti-concession battles lost because the employer had a strategy for winning and, despite high levels of solidarity, most unions didn’t. The fight begun in the 1960s to democratize the unions – among miners, teamsters, autoworkers, railroad workers and postal workers -- has been pushed back, with only the miners and teamsters partially succeeding. But without the rank and file being able to discuss and debate strategy, it’s hard to imagine how the culture of concessions can be reversed. By the 1980s aggressive lending by the major banks led to the Third World debt crisis and IMF “structural adjustment programs” that drove millions from their land. A series of U.S. military interventions and civil wars displaced millions more. While the U.S. immigrant population had been stagnant throughout the 1960s, by 2004 it had risen fourfold (approximately 34.2 million). Although some are admitted on the basis
of their professional or technical skills, most are poor people fleeing U.S. intervention or its “free trade” policies. The new, and poor, immigrants earn significantly less than the average U.S. worker. They are far more likely to be found in manual or service occupations where the job is traditionally low paid (agriculture, food preparation, hospitality industry, and domestic work) or became low paid because of industrial restructuring (building trades and meatpacking). While California, New York, Florida and Texas are the destination for the majority, the South now employees almost a third of the immigrant work force. These workers bring social networks and, sometimes, radical political traditions from their home countries. They have developed new forms of organization in the face of union retreat, and political attacks such as "English only" legislation or refusal by various states to issue drivers’ licenses to immigrants. The explosion of one-day strikes and economic boycotts that defeated 2006 the Sensenbrenner bill demonstrated an impressive level of organization. As with the African-American movement, the immigrant rights movement has attempted to forge national networks to coordinate its struggle against discrimination at the workplace and in the community. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) mass workplace raids, detentions, deportations that tear families apart and the active participation of some local police in these practices have become a reign of terror against legal as well as “illegal” immigrant communities. Struggling to stop these obscene abuses of state power and recognize that no human being is “illegal” is essential. Student activism has its own dynamics, and can inspire motion in other sectors, but in general it reflects the downward momentum of the social movements. At times students have organized around specifically campus-focused issues, such as during the Free Speech Movement of the 1960s. But unlike many other countries, the university system here is organized on a statewide rather than federal basis, limiting opportunities for organizing a national movement around student issues. Nonetheless throughout the 1990s and into the 21st century, campus activists developed networks to coordinate labor solidarity, environmental, antiwar, global justice and anti-racist activism. Campus women's and multicultural centers, fights against political repression on campus, and activism focused on recruitment and retention of students of color have also been important sites of struggle and places where young activists radicalize. Into the new millennium, existing student formations like United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC), Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA), Student Farmworker Alliance, and the Campus Antiwar Network (CAN) have been bolstered by the emergence of the new Students for a
Democratic Society (SDS) as well as episodic mobilizations such as by those around the Jena 6. The rise of feminism in the late ‘60s forced U.S. society to change some of its laws, many of its assumptions and some of its language -but today’s culture wars are still being waged over women’s bodies. In 1970, on the fiftieth anniversary of women winning suffrage, women’s demands were equal rights, the right to birth control and abortion and the right to low-cost, quality child care. None of them have been secured. Although the Supreme Court established women’s right to abortion at least during the first two trimesters of pregnancy, hundreds of laws have been enacted to blunt that right. Most importantly, the Hyde Amendment severely curtails poor women’s right to obtain Medicaidpaid for abortions. In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s right-wing mobilization at the clinic doors gave rise to a counter movement defending women’s right to abortion. Solidarity members were actively involved. Today the right organizes periodic mobilizations, including a two-week confrontation in Atlanta, and Solidarity members continue to defend women’s rights at the clinic doors. Both socialist feminists and women of color affirm the reality that women’s reproductive needs include more than the right to abortion: access to scientific information about their bodies, the right to appropriate birth control, the right to chose or not choose sterilization, the right to have, and raise, children in a safe environment. Since the early 1980s a number of women of color organizations have been established including Black Women’s Health Project (now defunct), Incite! Women of Color Against Violence and SisterSong, a network. These organizations tend to center their philosophical perspective around a human rights agenda and are usually involved in a variety of community issues: housing campaigns, LGBTQ issues, Katrina solidarity work, establishing clinics. Taking cues from the New Left's revitalization of political radicalism and the counterculture and sexual revolution, a gay liberation movement emerged. In the years following the 1969 Stonewall Riot, the movement's aims expanded beyond the individual rights focus of earlier “homophile” organizations such as the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis. Gay Liberation activists attacked conservative social norms, patriarchy, imperialism and the state; their political coalitions and language presented a common front with Black Power, radical feminism, anti-imperialism and other left movements. By the late 1970s, however, this initial energy had tapered; political strategy moved from a systemic critique to focus on achieving political and social equality for gays and lesbians within the existing the social
framework, replacing direct action with reform-oriented lobbying and electoral tactics. While the mainstream "gay civil rights" organizations established during this period continue to dominate, the criminal negligence to the AIDS crisis breathed new radicalism into the movement. Militant organizations like ACT UP won significant victories and dramatically raised awareness of the devastation caused by the virus; as the “at-risk” population broadened, diverse coalitions for health care justice fought lack of access to AIDS treatment. Today a new generation of activists dedicated to radically re-imagining the possibilities for human sexuality and gender expression uses the language of “qeer liberation,” much as earlier activists distanced themselves from more cautious elders by demanding gay power. Another movement that developed during the 1980s is the environmental justice movement. Initiated by African-American community and environmental activists, it expanded the environmental struggle to reveal how the deadly contradictions of capitalism reinforce structural racism. For example, garbage dumps and coal-burning plants are placed in people of color communities, with resulting health disaster. This has enlarged the mission and base of the environmental movement. Finally, the development of the global justice movement challenged the institutions through which U.S. and other capital has dominated the world since World War II. It allowed for impressive mobilizations against various IMF, World Bank and Davos meetings, but also for a thoughtful exposé of how capitalism creates tremendous poverty by redistributing wealth from the poor to the wealthy. The movement was able to attract labor and students, and was beginning to link up with people of color-led organizations only to be undercut by the “war on terror” in the aftermath of 9/11.
Regroupment, Refounding and the Arc of Resistance
In the decade of our founding, people on the left began talking to each other across ideological lines, in ways that hadn’t happened for a long time – with a common realization that the “party-building” of the previous years had effectively collapsed, and had been abusive in significant ways to the human beings committed to it. In this climate of assessment and inquiry, Solidarity’s founding organizations brought about a small-scale regroupment, initially including three groups with origins in Trotskyist traditions, a caucus inside the Socialist Party and one socialist-feminist collective. The project was daring for the time: to rebuild a left socialist presence, which was threatening to disappear (or alienate future generations), on the basis of a rudimentary set of shared revolutionary precepts.
The basis of Solidarity’s daring was admittedly narrow. It was rooted in Trotskyism. The idea was to overcome decades of debilitating splits that stubbornly maintained separate organizations – based perhaps most centrally on different characterizations of the nature of the Soviet state, but also on other analytical, strategic or even tactical differences – and get to the positions we agreed on. Solidarity’s founders also looked to other developments, like the fusing of several survivors of the New Communist Movement into FRSO, as signs pointing to the possibility of a broader “regroupment” (as we then called it) of the revolutionary left. Later, in 1991, Solidarity closely watched as hundreds of Communist Party members, rebelling against the lack of democracy in their party – and clearly inspired by the openness of the Gorbachev era -- founded the Committees of Correspondence. For a time, some in Solidarity became dual members of the Committees of Correspondence. We thought that the demise of the Soviet Union might change the possibility of a regrouped left – with those who had looked to the Soviet Union more open to the idea that democracy is an essential component in constructing socialism. It is difficult to imagine a vibrant U.S. left that does not have the ability to learn from lessons and experiences gained by various left organizations and individuals across ideological borders. While Solidarity always prioritized having our members rooted in the struggle of aspiring social movements, it made sense in the 1980s to hold out hope for a broader regroupment of the already organized revolutionary left as the next step in a revitalized U.S. left. At our 1986 founding conference we came out explicitly in support of these kinds of regroupment efforts. We still are. More recently, after the limited momentum for left regroupment seemed to have played out, other organizations – notably our comrades in FRSO/OSCL – raised the term “left refoundation” to highlight the role of a small but growing U.S. “social movement left” in cohering a vibrant, combative, revolutionary force. The two words – regroupment and refoundation – mean different things, but the process we are looking at is actually a combination. The exact proportion of one in relationship to the other is impossible for us to predict. We should pursue both, and let natural processes determine how the balance works out. Today, the social movement left that actually exists suffers greatly because there is no organized revolutionary movement worthy of the name. The organized revolutionary movement suffers equally because there is no mass social movement left worthy of the name. Each, in its future development, is dependent on the other. We favor, therefore, a “regroupment/refoundation” perspective which pays attention to both sides of the equation. The decade of Solidarity’s founding began with the emergence of
Solidarnosc, an independent Polish union and nationalist response to Soviet domination, which was set back and forced underground by the imposition of martial law. In our founding statement Solidarity analyzed the Polish union as representing “the high point in the struggle for socialist freedom in the Eastern bloc.” (Section 1) We saw its development could point the way to “the possibility of genuinely socialist societies without bosses or bureaucrats” (Section II). Additionally, we celebrated the founding of South Africa’s trade union federation, COSATU, as “the most dramatic example of a newly arising proletarian movement with revolutionary possibilities.” Along with the Polish and South African examples, we saw the growth of a vibrant and democratic labor movement in Brazil and Mexico as the best hope for repudiating debts that burdens so much of the Third World. (Section II) Within 18 mouths of our founding, a new focus of resistance emerged, when the First Palestinian Intifada erupted in December 1987. A tremendous mass mobilization resting on the strength and creativity of popular organizations – many of them women-led – in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, this uprising stirred hopes that the Palestinian people take concrete steps toward their aspirations for national independence and freedom from occupation. These hopes were defeated by three factors: the overwhelming brutality of the Israeli response, with full U.S. support, to an unarmed popular movement; the decision of the external Palestinian leadership to stake the future on international diplomatic maneuvering, rather than putting all its resources into strengthening the mass struggle; and the disastrous change in the world political context with the First Gulf War in 1991. This was followed by the “Oslo peace process,” which proved to be an enormous failure and step backward because it rested on two fundamentally false premises: a) that Israel would take any meaningful steps to halt settlements, release prisoners and relieve the horrible burdens of daily life in the Occupied Territories, and b) that the Palestinian people would surrender in the face of overwhelming IsraeliU.S. domination. The collapse of Oslo, the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Rabin, the re-ascendance of Israel’s hard right, and the last-minute negotiating debacle at Camp David under Bill Clinton’s watch produced the Second Palestinian Intifada. This stage of the struggle, much more militaristic and less driven by popular mobilization than the first, has taken a far higher toll in Israeli casualties but imposed an overwhelming burden of destruction and immiseration in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, especially Gaza. The imperialist mythology that the terms of surrender can be imposed on Palestine by massive U.S. and Israeli firepower has never been more destructive and bankrupt than at the present moment.
Less than a decade into Reagan / Thatcher (but also Volker / Carter) neoliberalism and restructuring, our expectations of a vibrant and stronger left turned out to be misplaced. The ‘90s brought forth a period in which not just Stalinism, but socialism, social-democracy and even Keynesian liberalism would seem discredited by the force of an energetic and neoliberal capitalism. The fall of Communist Party-ruled states in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe did not open the door to libratory socialism in Poland or East Germany. In fact the possibilities quickly disappeared beneath the boots of a triumphant capitalism. Reagan’s “low intensity warfare” caused enough violence and disruption in Central America so that whatever the terms of the peace agreements in El Salvador and Guatemala, the status quo won. In Nicaragua a combination of U.S.-armed contras and the Sandinista government’s inability to understand the issues of the rural or indigenous populations led to the 1990 electoral victory of right-wing forces. Although there was the hope that the FSLN could analyze its electoral defeat and rebuild itself, it chose instead to build a leadership clique around Daniel Ortega and consolidate itself around its business interests. By the beginning of the ‘90s organized labor and progressive popular movements, instead of rebounding from the doldrums of the Reagan years, went deeper into hibernation. In these objective circumstances, prospects for left regroupment had dimmed – the forces and circumstances needed to bring us together were outweighed by forces that demoralized the left and drove many organizations to hold on to what they had. The organization-to-organization regroupment project as we conceived it stalled out, despite sporadic efforts through the years. Among the most serious consequences of the failure to deepen the process was our inability to alter the racial composition of Solidarity, whose membership was at its founding overwhelmingly white and remains so today. A vibrant process of regroupment among surviving left formations of the period could have brought into being an organization with the basis for the participation and leadership of revolutionaries of color that is so necessary to socialist refoundation.
The founding of Solidarity was the product of the actual experiences of members of the ‘60s-‘70s generation. Whatever innovation and departure, it occurred within the framework of a socialist left gravitating around well-defined currents on a world scale that were the product of the 20th century experience. Solidarity was a corrective “structural adjustment” of socialist organization and action to the realities of the times. More than twenty years later the challenge for
Solidarity – and the other surviving socialist groups – is starkly posed: How can we contribute to the renewal of a socialist movement in today’s realities?
Refounding a New Left: Next Generations & Their Experiences
The period from 1999 to 2008 has created a new situation for remnants of the U.S. revolutionary left and the new progressive and popular movements. A new generation of radicals, who hadn’t been through the experiences of the traditional left, came of age around the struggles of the global justice and antiwar movements. They are joined by a small cohort who came of age during the ‘90s, around the first Gulf War and in opposition to the Republican “Contract with America.” Many activists from this generation cut their teeth on local struggles. They organized in communities of color with unions, around safe and affordable housing, redefined environmentalism to include the human rights of communities disproportionately affected by pollution and toxic waste, fought police brutality and the prison industrial complex, and forced queer and transgender issues onto the agenda. New forms of organizing, including workers’ centers, arose to champion workers’ interests both on and off the shop floor and to organize the unorganized. Much of the most creative organizing and most of the most powerful thinking of the global justice movement took place within anarchist and anti-authoritarian circles. Various citywide Direct Action Networks (DANs) and spokescouncils struggled with issues such as balancing sporadic large mobilizations with ongoing community-ally organizing; centering the movement around those most attacked by neoliberalism; putting an anti-oppression framework into practice; calling for direct actions while ensuring safety for working-class, poor, and immigrant participants in actions; avoiding domination by a charismatic or cliquish few; and thinking one step ahead of the police and political and corporate elites. Their track record of successes in transforming themselves around these issues was quite mixed, but the fact that they wrestled with them was impressive. Many global justice movement activists looked through a lens of antiauthoritarianism. They rejected the politics of “social democracy” in the leaderships of the AFL-CIO and traditional women’s and environmental organizations as too much a part of the “system,” and stylistically stale. Nonetheless, there was a pragmatic willingness to work with those forces in coalitions. Based on the sometimes commandeering and undemocratic, sometimes opportunist practices of most socialist groups they encountered, they also rejected Marxism.
They constantly strived towards organizational horizontality, where leadership could be rotated. Frustrated with symbolic protest and civil disobedience politics, they put a commitment to placing struggles against racism (and, sometimes, sexism and homophobia) at the center of organizing, both within groups and in the world. They attempted to practice forms of politics that would excite, not alienate. From the beginning a tension existed between the nonprofit-based organizations and those consisting of unpaid, grassroots activists. After 9/11, of course, the Global Justice Movement – already getting a bit bogged down in some of the more objective quandaries – was effectively subsumed into the nascent struggle against the war. Again, particularly on the West Coast, much of the most exciting organizing at the height of the antiwar movement was in the anti-authoritarian Direct Action to Stop the War (DASW), which shared the basic premises outlined above. Much of these politics continue to be central to movement-building projects among young people where they exist, in various Social Forums, among the Anarchist People of Color tendency, to some extent in USAS and the new SDS, and in many campus-based worker-rights and antiwar organizing projects. The insights and experiences of these activists will be an important component in the process of left refoundation. However, the politics of the global justice movement have reached a certain blind alley, and there has been a quantitative decline in the movement. Some global justice activists are thinking about new forms of revolutionary organization, while others seem trapped into endless discussions about red and blue states. And probably a few are doing both. Activists carry a deep-seated distrust – if not anger and rejection – of capitalism as an inhumane system that brings exploitation, war, starvation and destruction of our planet. To varying degrees, they are anti-capitalist in their thinking. With this rejection of capitalism many also feel a need to be more than just “loose activists,” but rather part of a whole more effective that just the sum of its parts. They have begun to outgrow isolated, individual activism and hunger for different kinds of organization, one that would be based around a long-term commitment to shared work and developing a common (if not completely unitary and fixed) political vision. This hunger was evident at the US Social Forum. The longings for comradeship, accountability, a better understanding of the world brought activists, in ones and twos, into Solidarity and into other groups and collectives. Twenty years after socialism was
seemingly discredited, a new generation is revisiting socialism and socialist organization – asking questions from new directions, ready to accept much and reject much. At the same time these new generations face incredible pressure to professionalize and /or devote themselves to their individual, personal lives, their careers and dating lives, their marriages and partnerships and children. The cultural and political sources of resistance to these pressures are weaker than in ‘60s and ‘70s, when “the revolution” was perceived as being around the corner, or at least within one’s lifetime. Combined with an economy that carried far less anxiety about finding a job, building personal economic survival was easier. A socialist left is not nurtured mainly by sound theories and analyses. Unlike the generation that founded Solidarity, today’s activists have not experienced anything like the same level of global social upheaval – and victories. A left is built as a reasonably-sized force in conformity with living proof that struggle is possible, that consciousness can rise and lead to sustained action for social justice against capital. The new generations of activists have not yet directly experienced a compelling and sustained political environment of this nature. Inspiring movements do arise, but have been cut short before they get wind in their sails. While the global justice movement was undercut by the war on terror, the World Social Forum evolved toward domination by reformist forces. An organized left, if it existed, might cohere resistance, focus it, and expound a new vision and a new practice. But in terms of social weight and placement, it does not exist. When we speak of “the left” today, this notion is a placeholder, an inexact way of speaking, an empty space needing to be filled. At best, “the left” in the United States is a project, a goal to be pursued not simply by regroupment, in the classic sense, but through refoundation: a fusing of new energies and a thoughtful examination and selection among old visions and programs. Solidarity would like to partner in such a project. We invite the broad left to think collectively about: 1) the political state of the world, 2) the major political movements which structure our landscape of possibilities, and 3) the tasks and possibilities of some kind of left refoundation/regroupment which might have the audacity to really propose a social transformation. This analysis is necessarily incomplete and impressionistic. It is not a “line” in the classic Leninist sense, but more of an arc (a line of flight, rather than a line of march): an act of thinking together which we hope will clarify our project for ourselves as well as contribute to a dialogue with others – other groups as well as the ones and twos out there hungering for new ideas and forms of organization.
The Tasks and Possibilities of a U.S. Refounded Left
For millions, the Soviet Union and China were what socialism in the concrete looked like. But with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Chinese bureaucracy’s embrace of capitalism in its most rapacious form, millions have concluded that socialism has been tried, and it has failed. Certainly those bureaucratic and authoritarian versions failed. However the removal of this alternative economic bloc has placed new strictures on the possibility of anti-capitalist outcomes for liberation struggles in a developing world. Even the exciting promise of workers democracy articulated by Brazil’s and South Africa’s mass trade unions remain unfulfilled. Each maintained alliances with political parties which, upon taking governmental power, adopted a neoliberal model with an occasional populist gesture. Tied to these parties, the unions and much of the social movements, including Brazil’s militant Landless Workers Movement, lost a substantial measure of political autonomy and have been unable to defend themselves let alone pave the way for an alternative. U.S. revolutionaries need to understand how global capitalism is evolving, how that affects the confidence of the working class and social movements, and how those changes reveal new fault lines. We also need to support and participate in working-class and community-based struggles and social movements. With a few notable exceptions like the antiwar and immigrants’ rights movement, today’s battles are largely defensive and local in nature -- such as police brutality cases, attacks on abortion clinics or laws regulating them, issues involving prisoner rights, community struggles over water and pollution, and many local labor struggles. In its present state, the left is almost never the generating force for these struggles. It is far too small and lacking in social legitimacy. However, these developments tell us that leadership has developed; militant, collective action has been taken. It is crucial for socialists to participate in such movements in order to learn from them, to support their most progressive direction, and to recruit as many of their ranks as possible to a socialist perspective in a respectful way, mindful of the parasitical stereotype that does confront us. Experiencing solidarity is crucial to understanding that we are not condemned to live in an alienated, commodified world of growing inequality. To the greatest extent possible, our small forces should do all they can to honor and assist these fights – from direct participation, to support work, to education on the underlying issues. Recognizing our limitations, the left should not develop delusions about taking the lead, although individuals among us are leaders or mentors to leaders. In today’s relation of forces, the immediate objective is a successful
struggle that can encourage further developments. Too often socialist groups have seen the development of a movement not for what it is and can become, but only what it might offer in the way of recruits. We reject this conception and affirm the need for an effective class movement in and for itself, which requires new forms of action, thinking and dialogue rather than repeating the known formulas. The left must be involved in the struggle against current wars and occupations, demanding that U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan be brought home now. No occupation is benign! We think this moment provides socialists with an opportunity to educate about the nature of U.S. foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East. We want to explain how complicity with the brutal Israeli occupation underpins U.S. policy, and express our solidarity with the Palestinian people. We do so without illusions that the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, let alone the ongoing Palestinian tragedy, will end in the near term. We oppose the U.S. empire and support struggles to close down U.S. military bases wherever they exist. On an international scale, our “programmatic judgments” on liberation struggles in the developing world must be held up to the light of global capitalist hegemony. That is, we can see some of their limitations, but it is more difficult to see how far these struggles can go in a world dominated by unipolar capitalism. Despite unfair election laws that benefit the two-party system, we believe it is necessary to build a party independent of the ruling-class. Such a party needs to be both a participant in the social movements as well as run candidates that can articulate a working-class perspective. Over the course of Solidarity’s existence, we have supported various initiatives toward building independent political parties including the Labor Party, the Party for the 21st century, the Green Party and exploratory efforts to build a Reconstruction Party. Some of our members work in the Green Party that, however fragile, has been able to gain ballot status in almost half the states and has elected officials at the local level. In addition to its platform of environmental justice, opposition to the Iraq war, and supports reparations, community struggles and workers’ strikes. We think that a movement-rooted political formation that encourages people to break with the two capitalist parties has high priority and an unfortunately low momentum. The capitalists have two parties, the working class has none. In this next presidential election, we recognize that the historic possibility of electing Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States is a touchstone issue for the vast majority of the progressive
community, and especially African Americans. Yet Obama is a centrist Democrat. What is unknown at this point is whether his possible victory and subsequent inability/refusal to end the U.S. occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, reverse the repression launched by the war on terror or implement such needed social measures as single-payer health care will demoralize those who vote for him – or spur them into action. While Solidarity has endorsed Cynthia McKinney’s campaign in the 2008 election cycle, we realize that most of the progressive community that votes will choose Obama either as symbol of hope and change, or as the better of the two mainstream candidates. Solidarity views Cynthia McKinney’s campaign as attractive to a layer of Black activists interested in independent political action, and we want to work with them. We also note that a small group of people of color have joined the Green Party and several have run for political office. Others have decided to build the Reconstruction Party, and are also supporting the McKinney campaign. While we are not hostile to Ralph Nader’s 2008 run, we want to help the Greens sink deeper roots into local struggles and feel the McKinney campaign can advance that goal. Solidarity members inside the Green Party, just as in other movements, respect the party’s integrity and encourage its democratic process. Even though no “really existing alternative” to capitalism occupies the stage at the moment, the terrifying dimensions of the global environmental crisis help convince millions of people, including the best of a new generation of activists, that capitalism is incompatible with the survival of human society. A convergence of “global justice” and environmental justice is key to the emergence of 21st century socialism.
Refounding the Left: Taking Our Past Into Our Future
A forceful renewal of the socialist left is not entirely a matter of our will alone. It ultimately depends on developments of a more massive scale both here and around the world that in one way or another pose a significant challenge to the capitalist agenda from a left direction. These developments provide the proverbial “tests” that are supposed to prove out the necessity for diverse revolutionary organization. Here, in the United States, we are no where near them. At this stage, most existing revolutionary organizations feel their fragility and place a question mark over their possibility for survival in any meaningful sense. The era of competition and triumphalism has pretty much ended. Does this mean that we circle the wagons, soldier on and wait?
Solidarity rejects this approach. Even as a body at rest, an organization will change – and inevitably not for the better. The risk runs the gambit from membership drift-out to downright cultification. The process of socialist renewal has to begin now, and should have begun at least a decade ago. Working together at varying levels, the social movement left and the organized left together can produce a modest pole that would be more attractive to those who do not belong to any socialist organization. It would have a remoralizing effect on all our respective members and networks. What forms could this working together take? Dialogue and study. Each organization feels the obligation to enunciate the basic lessons of 20th century revolution, examine its past as an organization, and relocate itself in the current realities of capitalism. It is pointedly wasteful of our scant resources to be doing this separately. A far richer and educational process, as well as a healthier internal environment, could be generated by finding spaces to conduct this discussion together. The same hold true for analyzing the movements and world relations of forces of today. The forces of the social movement left needs to figure out where and how they’d be interested in participating in this discussion. For example, too often the left’s “model” tends to drift back to a onesided application of “Leninism” as people imagine this concept was implemented in czarist Russia nearly a century ago. Is this appropriate today -- under conditions of formal democracy and with new methods of communication, not to mention lessons from the 20th century experience on the transition to socialism and the durability of capital? What organizational forms and modes of operation can be most effective in bringing about the renewal we seek? Today’s activists must be full-fledged participants in such a dialogue, bringing their questions, expectations and experiences as well as their commitment to the intersection of class, race and gender. Starting in the 1960s, significant challenges have successfully altered the standards of internal practice and culture in revolutionary organizations. The changes that have been brought about are profoundly political, and address a concept of democracy that goes beyond the requisite and anonymous formality of one person, one vote. Solidarity’s organizational practice has been influenced by people of color, women, and LGBT liberation movements. The changes include the institutional existence of caucuses within our organizations based on those oppressed because of race, gender and sexuality. These caucuses play a role not only in guiding our external relationships to movements of the oppressed, but also act as an internal corrective. They help our organizations to be inclusive and capable of acting with
a collective understanding of how oppression manifests itself even among revolutionaries, who are not immune to the pressures of the broader society. The stereotype of the ‘70s revolutionary organizations as being dominated by (charismatic) males, with a heavy polemical, defeatyour-opponent factionalism is – or should be – dead and buried. To whatever extent it was practiced, it was an exclusive, self-defeating model based on a caricature of the early 20th century movement. Today’s revolutionaries are striving for what some call “feminist functioning” – a respectful, egalitarian and uplifting internal environment grounded in democratic functioning and pooling of the strengths from all the members. The ‘70s model tended to see “the party” as a thing onto itself; floating above the members with some kind of existence of its own (often defined by these same white males). In our organizations today, this reification has to be combated. The “party” is the human beings who come together to act together. They are the locus of ownership. Solidarity has been mocked by other revolutionary groups because our members sometimes voted for different proposals at movement meetings. We have attempted to build consensus positions around our founding principles and encourage members to express judgments based on their experiences. Sometimes this has meant differences that we have not attempted to shut those down in the name of a “line,” requiring members to vote against their real convictions at the loss of their integrity. Imagine how much richer it would be to discuss – or even build -- a 21st Century internal revolutionary culture together, instead of in small groups that are grappling with the same basic need to make deep structural-democratic changes. Together, we could make a more coherent contribution that could enter the arsenal of models of revolutionary organization and theory. For example, developments of defiance of the imperialist world market diktat in Latin America – highlighted by political developments in Venezuela and Bolivia, and before that Brazil and Argentina – have to be assessed based on the current world relationship of forces, which is qualitatively different from the global reality for most of the 20th century. We should be taking inspiration from, and carefully examining, today’s processes of struggle as they unfold, offering them our solidarity. Approaching this as a broader collective will give us an opportunity to expand our common experience and analysis. The socialist left in Europe has experienced a similar stagnation, yet has managed to maintain a more vibrant existence, in good measure
due to greater levels of residual class consciousness. Many organizations are engaged in building new forms of organizations that have something to teach us about the possibilities – and in some cases the limits or obstacles – for unity or united action among previously competing revolutionary organizations. These include the Red Green Alliance in Denmark, the Left Bloque in Portugal, attempts to build Respect in Britain and the evolution of Rifondazione Comunista in Italy. The Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire of France has decided to dissolve and form an entirely new left socialist organization that would be more of an appropriate refoundational home for thousands of activists not currently in any socialist organization. Though we do not have the means to duplicate these efforts here – they require a level of social weight we don’t presently enjoy – we should be watching and discussing these efforts at left foundation together. Acting together. We should be sharing where we think things stand and what should be done. How strange the case that we often don’t even speak to one another while engaged in the same coalition, the same fight. That relic of the past has to stop. We should help mobilize our respective memberships for greater focus on a flashpoint struggle. Example: we often have members in the same trade union, even the same local, carrying on various fights for democracy, against concessions, etc. These energies should be pooled, and the tactical arguments should be had comrade-to-comrade. For its part, Solidarity believes that agreement around a broad set of principles, and not agreement around historical questions, is the root base for organized renewal of the socialist movement. We believe that the left has yet to perfect the art of “agreeing to disagree” – while still finding ways to act together in a coherent fashion -- once basic agreement of this type has been achieved. (Solidarity is not an exception to this statement.) The notion of “homogeneity” in an organization as the 20th century left perceived it did not serve well at all; it ended in sectarianism and irrelevance. We believe that unity in action does not require unity of thought. Solidarity is thus, in the broad sense, a proudly multi-tendency group. However, there is an important proviso to this: unity in action may not require unity of thought, but it most certainly requires thought – not just individual thought, but collective thought. That is, we do not believe that “democratic centralism” is an appropriate mechanism through which such a diverse group of revolutionaries can function effectively. Yes, there needs to be a set of key principles around which membership is constructed. Within that framework it will be necessary to listen to the ideas and experiences of all comrades, and to move forward with the understanding that there
will be differing assessments and therefore decisions will be revisited. Diversity can be the source of an organization’s strength because it allows for a pluralism from which a more nuanced assessment may be possible. Additionally, we believe that tactical decisions are just that, tactical. Marxism should be a method and not a set of formulas we have learned from the past. We also see that the insights from other philosophies of liberation and the living movements they spring from must renew and revitalize Marxism. Solidarity remains hopeful that today’s socialist left is capable of taking some or all of the steps can lead off the process of renewal. Though recent modest initiatives, we are attempting to bring about a frank discussion with other organizations as well as local collective/study groups and national networks of the social movement left on how – or whether – they see a process of left renewal taking root.
From “Solidarity Founding Statement”
[deleted sections “For a Socialist Alternative in America”, “Internationalism: A Politics of Solidarity”, “US Labor”, “Oppressed Minorities in the US”, “Feminism & Marxism”, “Lesbian/Gay Liberation”, “For Independent Politics”, and “Basis of Political Agreement” full document is online at http://www.solidarity-us.org/foundingstatement]
Our aim is to establish an organization whose functioning will be distinctive within the left, an organization that will be noted for its democratic practice internally as well as its non-sectarian, activist comportment in the mass movements. We recognize that we are only at the beginning of the struggle to build, or rebuild, socialist political consciousness in a section of the American working class. We do not pretend to have a fully worked out strategy to achieve this, and we recognize that learning how to build a revolutionary organization in the U.S. will require an experimental and flexible approach for a considerable period, as well as studying the experience of revolutionary socialists internationally. One of the errors that many different political organizations have committed is to assume that they are not just at the beginning, but already far along the road of developing a working-class revolutionary party. This led them to posture as fully-formed vanguard organizations —despite their small size and lack of roots in the working class—and reject common work, much less unification, with other revolutionaries. We believe that these would-be vanguards organized themselves in a way that would be counterproductive for revolutionary socialists at any time, and was especially inappropriate for the U.S. in the 1970s and 1980s. A genuine vanguard only emerges through years of immersion in the struggle of working class and oppressed people. Even in a revolutionary period, when its leading role is widely acknowledged, it must be internally democratic, allowing all its members to present their views openly, to organize other members around these views and to change the policies of the organization if a majority is convinced they are correct. It must also be open to the working class and social movements, honestly explaining its policies and difficulties, listening to and sometimes accepting outside criticisms, adapting to spontaneous popular initiatives and engaging in a frank dialogue with other currents on the left. In a period of defensive struggles, we must emphasize democracy
within our own organization and openness to those outside it at least as much. In establishing guidelines for our organizational functioning, we are adapting the historical experience of the international revolutionary socialist movement, notably the practice of the Bolshevik party in the early years of the Russian Revolution, to suit our specific circumstances. We consider an activist membership a necessary condition for a genuinely democratic organization. We expect members working in the same movement to coordinate their efforts and discuss their common problems together. We aim to carry out united campaigns in support of ongoing struggles, making sure that these interventions are appropriate to our resources and level of involvement and have been preceded by adequate discussion. In all of our work in social movements, we follow the general principle that the lowest body (work group, branch, etc.) that can make a decision on the conduct of that work should make that decision, and that the opinion of those most directly involved in the work should be given the greatest weight. Once a considered position has been reached, members have the obligation to help carry it out. Of course, a member who does not agree with a specific decision taken by any body of the group should not be placed in the difficult position of being responsible for implementing the decision; but in any event, members should not interfere with the implementation of a collective decision. We intend to carry out our decisions critically rather than blindly, keeping in mind the analysis and arguments that went into them and allowing ourselves the greatest possible leeway to reconsider and correct any mistakes we may make. For an organization to be democratic, it must allow for a free and democratic internal life, in which criticism and debate are viewed as a necessary part of developing a program for action. Just as important, the principles of majority rule pertain, so that the decisions taken after democratic discussion are binding on the leadership of the organization and actually affect the policy of the organization. This latter method of functioning contrasts both with the social-democratic model, in which no one is bound by the decisions of the organization, and, consequently, the party leadership is not bound by the membership's decisions; and with bureaucratic models of organization, in which the leadership is out of the control of a membership that is nonetheless expected to carry out its every decision. A truly democratic organization must be composed of activists. If the general perspective of an organization is the product of not just its general political program but also the concrete experiences of its membership in the unions and in the mass movements' then it is
absolutely essential from a practical political viewpoint that its members be involved. Since any given member only acquires direct knowledge from the work in which he or she is immediately involved in, the organization must provide as much information as possible to its membership. An activist in a trade union or an abortion rights group must be able to receive timely information about antiwar or Black liberation movement activities in order to round out his/her knowledge and allow him/her to participate in the political discussions of the organization on the same basis as every other member. An active educational program for all members, newer and more experienced alike, is essential for this purpose as well. In short, the organization must create a collective experience for its members. In turn, each member contributes to that collective experience by being active. We will also pay special attention to developing leadership skills and giving leadership roles to women and others who have traditionally been denied them. On the other hand, we absolutely reject any concept that the members of the organization must present themselves as a monolithic bloc to the outside world—this is one of the features of sects that most healthy activists find repulsive. And we recognize the need to develop among all members of the organization a sense of confidence in their own abilities. This implies the necessity of not just tolerating, but understanding that members of the organization must take initiatives —not wait for some central committee in another city to hand down directives. A healthy organization must encourage its members' initiative and assure them the flexibility to assess particular conditions and translate the group's general principles to practice that meets and engages those circumstances. In contrast to the practice of groups that present a monolithic face to the outside world, not just acting in common, but pretending to think exactly alike as well, our organization has a responsibility to distinguish between the carrying out of united campaigns and the appearance of functioning as unthinking bearers of "the line." A leadership, by virtue of the fact that it controls an organization's resources, has a distinct advantage in internal debate. For that reason, the right to form tendencies or factions is absolutely necessary to insure both a democratic discussion and the possibility that a minority may persuade enough members to become a majority. Furthermore, the organization as a whole must be educated in the idea that in any given debate, frequently no one is 100% correct or 100% wrong.
Rather, it is often a case that different tendencies reflect different aspects of the same reality in an uneven manner.
Overcoming Some Errors
In forming a new revolutionary socialist organization, we are obligated to examine some of the errors of the recent U.S. revolutionary left, whether of the currents of which many of us were members or of other sectors. Such an assessment must be carefully balanced. While the most important lesson of the 1970s was the failure of sectarian models of party-building, those very failures have caused many radicals to forget the even more profound lessons of the 1960s --the imperialist, racist and capitalist nature of the Democratic Party—which a large wing of the movement learned during the Vietnam war of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. It is of the greatest importance that a critical reassessment of the struggle for revolutionary organization lead us forward, not backward to passivity or accommodation to the political institutions of the system. Yet the very real dangers of reformist politics, whether expressed in the demoralized cynicism of many prominent social democratic intellectuals or the Rainbow Coalition perspective of former Maoists, must not prevent us from examining the failures of overexpectation and sectarianism. In the early half of the 1970s the revolutionary left overestimated its own strength and (more importantly) the pace at which the capitalist crisis would develop and the working class would respond. A plethora of small revolutionary organizations believed at various times in the 1970s that they were on the road to building a revolutionary party in America. Put together over time, several thousand militants passed through these party-building formations; thousands more went through the experience of the New American Movement, which while not "Marxist-Leninist" or Trotskyist in orientation also envisioned becoming a mass- based party for an American socialism. It is all too easy to focus on some of the more grotesque and colorful features in the lives of such groups: cults of mini- personalities, contorted flip-flops of political line over China, bizarre debates on applying Stalinist versions of the "United Front" to trade-union and national minority work, internal purges over "white chauvinism" or other manufactured issues that destroyed whole groups, etc. However, to focus on these aspects of the experience risks missing the more important lessons to be learned from the less obvious mistakes and misjudgments of those years. A more thoughtful approach
requires us to look at the experiences of the sectors of the revolutionary left who were fundamentally democratic and sane in their political approach. The belief that our particular group constituted in some sense the "vanguard party," or its core, in a situation where in reality the group had only limited influence at the base and even less actual leadership position among any group of workers, created distortions of various kinds in our politics. Such a situation inevitably generated certain tendencies, which were often justified in terms of "Leninist" or "democratic centralist" norms but which more often were a serious misapplication and incorrect reading of the actual historic practice of the Bolshevik party in Lenin's lifetime. Such tendencies, which ex pressed themselves with varying degrees of intensity in the lives of different groups, included: 1. An over-centralization of leadership at the expense of local initiative, tactical flexibility and willingness to experiment with varying styles of work. There was a more or less continual state of mobilization— sometimes with productive results, but insufficient opportunity to evaluate experiences, with the result that strategic initiative became too much the exclusive province of the central leadership. Political evaluation often was restricted to the discussion of a Political Committee, filtered down to a National Committee through reports, then to the ranks via NC members and "fait accompli" articles in the (always homogeneous) party press. The ranks, then, were trained (often well) to absorb and defend the line, rather than to help generate it. The bottom-up process was reserved for convention discussion every couple of years, and-by that very token-was largely gutted. The overemphasis on "leadership" relative to rank-and-file initiative inside vanguard organizations was often reproduced in the groups' relationship to the class struggle. Small groups of revolutionaries overestimated their ability to lead and sometimes even assumed their historic "right" to do so by virtue of their "advanced" politics. One distortion to which this pseudo-vanguardism gave rise was the formation of large-scale or small-scale front groups with tenuous roots in the working class or the movements of the oppressed. We are speaking here not of broad coalitions such as existed in (for example) the anti-war movement, but rather of organizations claiming to speak for masses of workers and the oppressed which were in reality completely dominated by a sect. The front-group method of organizing sometimes produced flashy short-term results followed by collapse; on the other hand, serious rank-and-file groupings which took
care from the beginning to create a democratic internal process and a leadership with a real base had much more solid long-term records of accomplishment and survival. 2. A vast inflation in the stakes of every political debate, whether over strategy for a union campaign or even foreign policy or theoretical issues, resulting in a tendency for factional lines to form as a rule rather than as an exception in every disagreement. Such factionalism was often in inverse proportion to the real weight of the political group in the mass movement, so that the more bitter the internal debate the less the outcome mattered in the real world. In Maoist or "Marxist-Leninist" groupings, all political questions were measured by their correspondence to whatever version of the "Three Worlds" or "main danger" theory was current. In Trotskyist groups the "primacy of program" conception, according to which every political difference was seen as a potential fundamental threat to the basic politics of the organization, led to bitter fights and splits on theoretical questions. In different forms such problems affected other groups, such as the International Socialists, whose insistence on too rigid strategic conceptions contributed to two damaging splits. 3. The collapsing theoretically of struggles of the oppressed into the category of "class." If proletarian revolution was on the agenda and building the proletarian party was the task of the hour, it became all too easy to ignore the great complexities and multiple dimensions of social movements. For example, in addressing the Black movement, the revolutionary left correctly understood in general (whatever its particular theory of the national or racial character of Black oppression) that the Black struggle, with its highly proletarian composition, is revolutionary in its overall thrust. This correct insight, however, became oversimplified to the point of regarding every strike of Black workers or every struggle for basic democratic rights (busing, against police brutality, stopping a racist frame-up, etc.) as automatically "revolutionary" even when those involved did not view it in that way at all. Both Black and white revolutionaries were prone to this error, the latter more so if they came to the struggle from the outside. (Socialists inside the unions, white or Black, dealing with the real struggles of workers on a daily basis, usually more quickly acquired an understanding of reality.) Another example was the left's difficulties in dealing with the women's movement, which was often written off as petty-bourgeois since as every revolutionist was supposed to know, the (abstractly conceived) working class was what mattered. In the process the left often gave
short shrift to precisely those issues which actually mattered most to great numbers of working-class women. Here again, members of cadre organizations who were actually engaged in working-women's struggles (whether in traditional or non-traditional industries) learned important lessons which in turn were assimilated by their political groups. But too often the views and contributions of these members were undervalued within their organizations. Ultimately, the hypertrophy of the role of "party leadership" combined with the failure of revolutionary expectations could lead to political degeneration. Veterans of the experience of the SWP can perhaps best testify to this dynamic: a series of turns developed by the leadership seeking keys to rapid growth; attrition of internal democracy; increasingly, the transformation of an essential and correct solidarity with Third World revolutions (especially Nicaragua) into a substitution of this work for party members' day-to-day participation in the political life of their workplaces and unions. In the case of the SWP the incremental transformation of the party's consciousness ultimately expressed itself in a qualitative change in theory, towards a stagist conception of Third World revolution, and an approach to world politics which includes defense of Khomeini's murderous theocracy as "anti-imperialist," a retreat from full support of Polish Solidarnosc and a general accommodation to pro-Moscow Stalinism. There is another, more subtle error which has exacerbated the tendency toward splintering of the revolutionary left. We believe that it is a mistake today to organize revolutionary groups around precise theories of the Russian revolution. We want to be clear about what this means. Precision, clarity and rigor are the highest of virtues in developing theory and historical analysis; however, lines of political demarcation do not flow in a mechanical and linear way from differences of theoretical interpretation. Such an approach leads to unnecessary hothoused debates on issues where long-term discussion would be more in order. It also contributes to the dynamics of factionalism and splits, which in any case have been too high owing to our history of misassessing the political realities of our own society. In seeking to overcome this negative legacy, our new organization brings together currents and individuals with a variety of views on theoretical and historical questions, from the interpretation of the Russian Revolution and its leadership to the struggle in Central America today. We will carry on discussion and mutual education,
making no public pretense of monolithism and seeking to learn from each other's views. We have in common that we are on the same side when it comes to struggle: with the Nicaraguan people and their revolution against imperialism, with the Polish workers and their movement Solidarnosc against the ruling bureaucracy. Because of the unique role of theoretical debate on the class character of the USSR and Eastern Europe in the life of the anti- Stalinist revolutionary left, it is relevant to elaborate briefly on our parameters of agreement. It is the tradition of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, of the Solidarnosc movement and others that will arise to follow its example—not the regime of Poland and the USSR or other Eastern European states—which represent the struggle for socialist freedom and the socialist future of humanity. We will stand on this position openly and without compromise. Theoretically, some of us view these states as post-capitalist societies whose transition toward socialism is blocked by bureaucratic ruling castes and the pressures of imperialism. Others of us regard the bureaucracies as ruling classes, exploiting the working class in a new way, in a social formation which is a rival to capitalism but is no less reactionary. Others of us regard them as essentially a new form of capitalism itself, state capitalism; while still others do not have a firmly held theory or regard all existing theoretical explanations as inadequate. We are determined that these differences will not prevent us from extending active solidarity to workers' struggles in Eastern Europe, nor from building a common socialist organization here in the U.S. We also hold a variety of theoretical views on the nature of, for example, the Nicaraguan revolution, which will not prevent us from extending solidarity to it. We agree, at least, that no viable analysis of that revolution or others like it can be made by simply pretending it is a re-make of the Russian Revolution of 1917 in miniature. On the question of Cuba, while united in our total opposition to all forms of U.S. hostility and intervention toward Cuba, we do not share a common view of Cuban society and its regime. Some of us feel that Cuba, despite the limitations on workers' democracy, represents a highly positive though unfinished revolutionary process with a crucial impact in Latin America and the Caribbean. Others of us regard the Cuban regime, in its relationship to its own working class, to be no different qualitatively from the bureaucratic regimes of Eastern Europe and therefore not a positive revolutionary
model. We will not seek to paper over these differences; rather, we regard our success in building a common organization which contains a diversity of views while maintaining comradely collaboration as a test of the viability of regroupment.
Freedom Road Socialist Organization, excerpts from Which Way Is Left?
The Dispersed Left in the US
The crisis of left organizations, program and theory has, of course, affected the US Left as well as the Left internationally. Neo-liberalism, as we’ve discussed, has aggravated the problem. The US Left is not consolidated around socialism and has been largely unable to develop a framework for work on common projects and a shared vision. Efforts in the 1970s to consolidate New Left formations all, to varying degrees, crashed. While there were particularities to each experience,1 there were certain features that most of these efforts had in common: • An inconsistent, and in some cases outright incorrect, underplaying of the question of race and national oppression in the US • An often mechanical and superficial understanding of male supremacy and issues of gender relations • An overestimation of the potential for revolutionary struggle during the 1970s (and for some groups, for every year since then); also a corresponding failure to understand the complexities of the political Right2 • A lack of understanding of the nature of the US political state and the types of left organization(s) necessary to build a struggle that ultimately results in revolution • A failure to truly integrate an internationalist perspective into the ongoing work of the respective projects • Sectarianism and factionalism • A phenomenon that Max Elbaum coined as “miniaturized Leninism”: the tendency for each small organization to have the features and functions of a mass revolutionary party of the oppressed (like a newspaper) even though the group’s base and resources were insufficient State repression compounded the crisis of socialism in the US, a factor that cannot be ignored and continues to manifest itself in similar yet different forms today. Projects like the FBI’s notorious Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) destroyed countless Black left
See Max Elbaum’s Revolution in the Air for a thought-provoking look at the MarxistLeninist experience. 2 Most sections of the Left tended to look at the political Right as largely monolithic. We tended to view right-wing movements and/or government repression as illustrative of fascist tendencies, creeping fascism, or in some cases, the arrival of fascism. Sara Diamond’s Roads to Dominion is an interesting look at the US Right.
organizations and individuals and disrupted efforts at unity between various tendencies on the Left. The African-American Left probably suffered the most from that specific repressive program, though other movements, like the Puerto Rican and Native American movements, were often subject to dramatic state repression that went un- or underreported in most US media. While there have been important developments at the mass level, the Left in the US has made few breakthroughs. A variety of groups and collectives have thrown in the towel. Without the support of a group, few former revolutionaries have been able to withstand the gravitational pull of capitalist hegemony. Many have drifted to reformism, folded into the Democratic Party, become part of the NGO world or been absorbed into trade unionism that poses no fundamental threat to capitalism. Many of the remaining socialist organizations, as a way of staving off oblivion, have stayed well within their own comfort zones (what Mao called the mountain stronghold mentality), generally represented by the attitude of “smaller but better,” and have downplayed the importance of developing new theory and revolutionary practice. Yet these organizational forms are largely inappropriate for addressing the theoretical and practical questions related to the development of a revolutionary movement. As such, we are less than the sum of our parts at precisely the moment when a visionary socialist Left is so needed. Various efforts have emerged within the socialist Left toward unity or regroupment.3 While these efforts have been sincere, they have run up against several problems. We might note that many of these same issues plague the social movements. These problems include: • Lack of trust among organizations • Very stretched resources among small organizations • Mountain-stronghold/comfort zone mentality • Lack of attention to the creation and advocacy of revolutionary theory4 • The inability to break from a pragmatism that has folks walking with their eyes close to the ground • The complete infection by bourgeois individualism in the form of cowboy revolutionary; by this we mean a real tendency to form
Regroupment is not the same as Left Refoundation. Regroupment’s focus is generally on uniting existing forces and organizations. The call for new theoretical work and program has not been central 4 Which can play out as either reliance on old theory, up to and including dogmatism and revivalism, or it can play itself out as downplaying theory altogether and a reliance on activity in the mass movements to spontaneously generate a new revolutionary current.
new organizations at the drop of a hat To this list must be added a factor that often goes unmentioned: the lack of a sense of what it will take to actually build a movement that can challenge for power in the US. Specifically, a failure to appreciate the scale of organization that will be needed and, therefore, the steps necessary to bring such an organization into existence. As such, irrespective of intent and rhetoric, most of the Left has become content to build movements of resistance but is not prepared to theorize the steps necessary to create an organization capable of building an offensive strategy. In our view, such an organization is a party for socialism, an explicitly anticapitalist, anti-imperialist party rooted within the oppressed. This means a party of the working class, but also a party that is understood to be a representative of those dispossessed by capitalism. The first sections of this paper described the characteristics of the neo-liberal, imperialist state and explored the problems of socialist experiments of the 20th century. We then looked briefly at resistance movements to neo-liberal globalization. The remainder of this paper argues that building revolutionary organization is a critical task at this time.
Why a party?
Questions of Left organization fundamentally revolve around an assessment of the period, the state and the nature of the struggle for transformation. As we argued earlier, the state is not a neutral zone where anybody and everybody has equal room to play. The state reflects and advances the interests and needs of the class(es) in power, and we have noted its repressive functions, some more obvious than others. Some revolutionaries, reacting to the corrosive aftermath of 20thcentury socialist experiments, believe that taking state power is both useless and wrong. Enormous mistakes and fundamental theoretical and practical weaknesses infected many socialist attempts of the last century. Out of this analysis comes the belief that the Left must lead the resistance against neo-liberal globalization and force capital to make various concessions. At some point, the masses of oppressed people will conclude that capitalism must be transcended and will take action largely on their own. Unfortunately, this idea has no historical basis. Transcending any social system has always necessitated a conscious combination of broadbased education (education through the practice of struggle as well as through analysis), an organization of a segment of the masses, and
leadership (generally in the form of an organization or political party). The absence of organization effectively condemns the oppressed to constant resistance battles. Even when such battles are won, the danger is that victory will be short-lived and that the oppressed will tire and despair. Examples of defensive battles and short-lived victories abound: the recent immigrant rights upsurge, battles against repeated racist and anti-immigrant ballot initiatives, union organizing victories in plants that then move abroad, antigentrification battles in urban neighborhoods… A revolutionary party would be a vehicle for creating conscious organization, broad-based education and effective leadership of and by the working class and oppressed people. Without organization, our political ideas remain dreams unfulfilled. Why do we need revolutionary organization? Here is why: • The struggle for structural reform and consistent democracy, while being part of the role of the Left, is insufficient. We must struggle to transform society and work with others to transform the planet. There is a desperate need for new theory and an explanation and practice that goes beyond any one particular sector but speaks to and with the various sectors that are in struggle with capital, providing them with an overarching sense of interconnection. There is a need to have a political organization that has members in various struggles linking these reform struggles to the larger struggle for transformation. A party aims to have developed campaigns that serve both to educate as well as change the conditions of the people. For instance, a party for socialism could involve itself in the struggles within the union movement toward a new labor unionism. Such a party could organize the unemployed both to demand employment and to create cooperatives that can provide for survival and foster selfreliance and self-organization among the oppressed. A party for socialism could build a truly internationalist politics, educating people in the US about global struggles against imperialism, pursuing struggles here that support people’s movements in other countries, and fighting within the US to end the imperialist policies and actions of the US government. The fights, for instance, in the 1980s against South African Apartheid and US intervention in Central America provided real support for the forces on the ground. A party for socialism must be a party that struggles against
patriarchy and for women’s emancipation. Not only has the bourgeois white women’s movement gained hegemony within women’s movement, but there are also now attacks from the Right that must be overcome. A party for socialism must center itself on the intersection of oppressions (race, class, gender, sexual identity and choice) and deal with internal contradictions and with how this interplay impacts the road to socialist emancipation.5 A party for socialism is essential to pursue the struggles against racism (white supremacy) and national oppression. Central to any strategy for change in the US must be a thorough understanding of the nature of racialized patriarchal capitalism. Playing the race card has effectively kept people of color subordinated and the working class divided for hundreds of years. Every attempt by white Leftists and progressives to avoid dealing with this question has led to abject failure. Socialism cannot come to the US primarily in a white skin; it must represent the spectrum of the rainbow and be largely developed and led by historically oppressed peoples. This means building and supporting struggles for national self-determination over land, political power and economic justice among the AfricanAmerican, Chicano, Asian-Pacific American, Arab, Puerto Rican, Hawaiian and Native American peoples. It means fighting for full democratic and economic rights for those peoples uprooted from their lands and denied democracy. A party for socialism must be a party of color.
Now we would like to pose a few questions that we by no means have an answer to, but believe are critical for discussion amongst selfidentified socialists, Leftists, and all people interested in revolutionary change. These are some of the very questions that we believe should be discussed widely and collectively. •
What do healthy and accountable relationships between people’s
Much could be—and has been—written on this subject alone, but we restrict our comments here to emphasize the following points. Class is not a concept that exists in isolation from other oppressions, nor are other oppressions, e.g. male supremacy, in isolation. A party must grasp this theoretically and practically. At the same time, the law of contradiction is critical, particularly with regard to strategy. Specifically, at any one moment there is a principal contradiction, the resolution of which impacts other contradictions. The principal contradiction is itself influenced by secondary contradictions. Thus, a party for socialism must be keenly aware of this dialectical relationship and must not try to reduce all contradictions to the fundamental contradiction of the capitalist era, that between labor and capital, or to reduce all contradictions to the principal contradiction. Economic determinism has led many Left currents to ignore secondary contradictions, and often to misread the principal contradiction in a particular period.
• • •
movements and the organized Left—whether parties or small Left collectives and cadres—look like? How do we rethink the relationship between a party and organizations of workers, neighbors, etc., including the relationship between a party and spontaneous action? How do we ensure that the organizations and/or parties that we build will not, once there is a level of power (whether state power or a power within the mass movement), devolve into terror, bureaucracy and state capitalism? How will the fight for gender, queer and sexual liberation construct a new kind of party and Left? What is the role of culture in a party(ies), and how do we create counter-hegemonic culture in political movements today? Is a new kind of party prepared to take leadership from the movements of workers, women, oppressed nationalities? How will practice and theory developed out of those movements be respected and recognized by Left organizations and movements?
What is a party?
Given the nature of the capitalist state as well as the necessity to construct a project that fights for power, we are inevitably confronted with questions of political organization. Yet there are no perfect organizations, nor are there organizations that serve all purposes. To better explain the concept of a party, it is useful to contrast it to other forms of organization. In the context of the US, there is a dual nature to fighting for political power. There is the immediate fight for political power within the framework of democratic capitalism. 6 This framework can still in some significant sense be defined as such, despite its historical disenfranchisement of those defined as not white and its authoritarian turn under neo-liberal globalization. In a non-revolutionary situation where the masses of people have confidence in the existing system (or wish to have such confidence), the Left cannot afford to sit back in the role of perpetual naysayer. Utilizing the rights that supposedly exist through a constitutional republic, the Left, in alliance with other progressive forces, should be mounting a long-term challenge for political power. This would combine electoral and non-electoral means of raising struggle. Operating within this context means creating a
Or, as Marx called it, a “bourgeois democracy,” where there is universal suffrage, the rule of law, political competition and certain political liberties. The elite use the laws and elections to legitimize their rule, but the working class can use these same tools of democracy to advance their aims, thus threatening the very foundation of bourgeois rule.
broad Left/progressive formation capable of operating openly and uniting in its program the key objectives of the progressive social movements. Its goal is the expansion of democracy and the institution of structural reforms within the parameters of the capitalist system, pushing the system to its limits. This, however, is not the same thing as gaining state power. Gaining state power represents the process of altering power relations in a fundamental manner. Real transformation and liberation must involve replacing the existing capitalist state. This is part of the long-term struggle for power, a struggle that needs to be led by a party or parties (for example, in a revolutionary front formation). However, the larger struggle for socialism cannot be Left to the actions of a party alone but must involve the people as agents of their own emancipation. A party for socialism has a different set of tasks than a Left/progressive formation. Latin American theorist Marta Harnecker speaks about a new party for socialism as representing the unity of the organized Left and the social movement Lefts. This concept is quite important in our thinking concerning Left Refoundation. The organized Left refers to the existing political formations and groupings of the self-defined Left. The social-movement Lefts refers to the Left wings of the progressive social movements, e.g. the Left wings of the global justice movement, environmental, women’s, and national movements. The creation of a party for socialism necessitates the fusion of both Lefts, in an effort to develop what Gramsci called a historic bloc, or what we would call a strategic political bloc.7 The party for socialism also must be firmly rooted in both the working class and other oppressed strata, as well as in the progressive social movements that are expressions of objectives of these strata. This may be an awkward way of saying that it is not enough to build a party for socialism that has a large base within the working class, if that party is not tied directly into the various social movements that are engaged in the struggle against capital. We say fusion because the organized Left needs to root itself within the mass movements based on principles of mutual respect and learning, rather than seeking to exploit those movements.
Some lessons from history
It is useful to briefly review (since a full explanation requires a separate book!) some of the critical lessons that one can draw from
A historic bloc or strategic political bloc is broader than any one party. Yet, as we pointed out earlier, the party has as its role the building of such a bloc if it ever wishes to gain power.
various revolutionary Left experiences in the 20th century when thinking about the task of creating a party for socialism: • We need to engage in critical summation. While Marxism serves as a guide to theory and practice, it does not provide the answer to each and every question confronting humanity. Marxism, for instance, does not have a theory of the personality, and never set out to have one. Nevertheless, historical materialism and materialist dialectics22 provide a means to identify and answer many of the complicated questions facing the social movements. Historical materialism serves as a social science that, as with other social sciences, does not provide ready-made answers but does provide a means to grapple with the questions. Practice and critical summation over time lay the foundation for conclusions. Parties that believe they are omnipotent and omniscient are parties on the road to self-destruction. • Democracy serves as both a goal and a practice. Democracy cannot be an abstraction; it must be built into the process of revolutionary struggle. This paper has looked at some exciting new developments in this area. They remind us that democracy cannot be something that is put off to a distant future but must be demonstrated in practice. A party’s openness to criticism and its accountability between and among all levels (often called democratic centralism) are essential to ensure against cultism and stagnation. This approach is important in addressing some of the damning criticisms of Left-wing parties—particularly communist parties—that gain power and then move in an authoritarian direction. Democracy must be built into revolutionary practice from the inception. • There is not necessarily one organization for each class. Orthodox Marxism-Leninism has argued that since there exists only one class interest within the working class there must be only one party. This formulation is idealist and problematic. Capitalism (particularly neo-liberalism) constantly reshapes the material realities working people face across the globe. In turn, the working class is constantly remaking itself. This means that there are constantly changing contradictions within classes that cannot all be handled in the same manner. While the party for socialism should be strongly rooted within the working class, it should not see itself as the sole voice for that class. There may be contending socialist parties, there may be united fronts, or there may be one party. Thus, the form of a revolutionary party can never be cast in stone. It changes depending on material conditions. Whatever the configuration, room must exist for the creation of new formations, particularly under socialism, that challenge bureaucratization of the party and any tendencies toward the development of new oppressive classes. Thus, in addition to the potential for other parties, independent grassroots organizations and social movements are essential for the vitality of a socialist project.
• There is a constant need to revolutionize organizations. This need exists irrespective of the period. It includes leadership development (emphasizing working-class women of color and building organizational models where they can lead as women); the personal development of individuals; the creation of new social relations that liberate individuals (and help heal those traumatized and wounded by capitalism); the struggle against bureaucracy; and the struggle against racism/chauvinism, sexism,8 the gender binary, heterosexism, and class privilege. These struggles, at least until the distant future, are never completely won. There are structural steps that can be introduced or at least considered, such as term limits for leadership (like the rotation of leaders over a reasonable period of time), commissions that develop theory and advocate for the issues of specific constituencies, full internal debate (assuming we’re not operating under conditions of severe repression), percentages of traditionally excluded groups on leading bodies, and regular education on the issues. • The creation of theory is essential. The creation and advocacy of revolutionary theory is central to the existence of a revolutionary Left and revolutionary organization. When theory stagnates, strategy falters. Actual experience must guide the development and evaluation of theory—not just the experiences of one organization, but of various organizations over a period. The creation of theory is more than simply reading what others have written and translating that into US conditions. It means that the Left must commission its own theoreticians to develop theory relative to both the US and to the world. This means, among other things, that there must be latitude for differences of opinion and even heresy. • It’s important to recognize other revolutionary currents even if they are from another political/ideological tradition. This is related, but not identical, to the earlier point regarding multi-party socialism. The Left, particularly the communist Left, has often seen the legitimacy of only its own revolutionary tradition. In the US, for instance, too many Leftists who have benefited from white, male, heterosexist and other forms of privilege have seen the Left as largely themselves and have ignored other radical traditions, especially from the movements of people of color. To some extent this blindness/dismissal contributed to the rise of identity politics, where
Historical materialism/materialist dialectics are the theoretical and methodological foundations of Marxism, a study of how change happens as well as an understanding of how material circumstances shape relationships between people and classes and ultimately the historical development of humanity.
individual movements not only sought legitimacy, but also disconnected these currents from other social movements. • Revolutionary fronts can be one vehicle for pursuing the struggle for socialism, or they can be transitional. The experiences in Latin America, particularly with the Salvadoran Farabundo Martí National Liberation front (FMLN) and the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) in Nicaragua, offered a particularly interesting approach toward building unity between political tendencies that had at various moments quite literally been at war with one another. In both cases these fronts transitioned into political parties. That may be a method to be considered in the US.
So, Where Do We Go from Here?
The notion of Left Refoundation and party building brings with it a need to think even more deeply about the approach toward constructing a party. Here are a few assumptions and proposals. • Despite the absolute need for a party of socialism, short of unusual circumstances we are a long way off from a genuine party. By genuine we mean a party that has thousands of members and a significant dedicated core (cohesive element, to use Gramsci’s phrase). Ultimately, we need to be thinking in terms of a party of hundreds of thousands of members. This means, among other things, that those forces committed to the building of a party must themselves have roots in progressive social movements and mass struggles. This does not mean, however, that any one pre-party organization or formation can or should assume that it will be in all such movements and struggles. In such movements, however, the revolutionary Left must identify real mass leaders and win them to socialism. It means that the revolutionary Left is struggling to strengthen the progressive social movements, particularly by building the united-front character of these movements. The Left within those social movements, some of whom may be involved in the building of a party, would have tasks specific to those social movements, and the revolutionary Left must be a part of supporting this work. The revolutionary Left must be learning from the experiences within these movements and summarizing the practice on the level of theory. That theory can in return support these movements and serve as a component of the overall theory for the construction of a socialist project in this country. There is a need for intermediate steps that can place the US Left in the position to create such a party. Intermediate steps might
mean a front—as mentioned earlier—or some other sort of transitional organization(s). The construction of a party for socialism must begin with agreement on the actual situation (domestically and globally), along with agreement on the minimum conditions or points of unity necessary in order to have a principled, working organization. This means that there must be agreement that some matters will not be settled in the immediate, though a process might be established to work them through. No one organization will simply grow in size and become the party. Building a party will require a conscious coming together of forces on the revolutionary Left and will not happen spontaneously. Ideally, a group of organizations from both the organized and social movement Lefts would agree to host a Left-rebuilding initiative. Some efforts in this direction have been attempted but have not succeeded.
Our conclusion from this is that insufficient trust existed between organizations in order for them to place time and resources into such a project, or to engage their own base in the idea. Additionally, there is often a lack of urgency. These efforts also seemed to come undone in part due to different views on how a party can and should come about. One classic example of this was referenced earlier, i.e., an almost evolutionist view that a party will spontaneously emerge from mass struggle when conditions are ripe. Thus, there is no need to develop a strategy for party building because when the time is right, it will rise. For these and other reasons we have concluded that party building must be driven from below. • Left Refoundation assumes much more than the unification of existing organizations in the organized and social-movement Lefts. It proposes that there must be a process to bring forward and develop the leadership of new Leftists who may never have been part of any organization. It also means building political and organizational unity with those Leftists who view themselves as being solitary and not part of any organization or current. Finally it means moving to unity with the various forms of collectives and study groups that are springing up out of the various movements. We must ensure revolutionary diversity by race, nationality, gender and class composition in order to succeed. This means bringing forward the real leaders of the social movements, as well as identifying organizational forms that promote full participation and eventual unification.
From this, we would suggest: • Organizational alliances: Organizations that share a common vision toward the construction of a party for socialism, or even simply the strengthening of the revolutionary Left, but which are not prepared to unite should forge alliances. We envision these alliances taking place among and between the organized Left and social-movement Lefts. Such alliances should be formal agreements to work on common projects, share information, and offer support to one another where possible. Obviously, if there is sufficient unity to merge, that should be done. These options are not in contradiction. Promotion of debate: There are a number of existing vehicles that can act as a mechanism for debate and exchange among Leftists. These forums, some of which may evolve out of a Left Refoundation–type process, can provide news and analysis regarding issues that are otherwise ignored. In other words, it can be a mechanism to move broad discussions and debates within the organized and social-movement Lefts. Debate can also include: o Formal debates: The Brecht Forum in New York and the Center for Political Education in San Francisco regularly hold debates and discussions on issues of concern to Leftists. Most locales, urban and rural, lack these institutions. Debates on issues ranging from the question of the party to global warming must be taken on the road. o Study/discussion groups: There is a desperate need for venues in which Leftists can study and dialogue and ultimately take practical action. Groups need to use all forms of education (visual, oral, and hands-on), so that all types of learners can play an equal part. These groups can help to create the conditions for new forms of organization. o Local social investigation, planning and activity: The Left typically involves itself in defensive coalitions and joint work around a specific problem. Some Leftists believe that by doing this, unity will spontaneously emerge. There is little evidence to support this idea. Only conscious effort brings unity. We suggest that Leftists who have some level of principled unity within a specific geographic area come together to (a) conduct an analysis of the state of the class struggle in that area; (b) identify points where a coherent Left could make a difference in building, strengthening, etc., a struggle; and (c) agree upon projects or points of concentration. These efforts are building blocks for the revival of revolutionary politics.
Strengthening the social-movement Lefts: Part of our work must be to reinforce the social-movement Lefts, not simply in their relationship to party building, but as independent forces in their own right. The social movement Lefts are quite diverse ideologically. Revolutionary Marxists have an obligation to approach the social-movement Lefts as comrades but not with the immediate, or in some cases long-term, prospect of unification. FRSO/OSCL, for instance, has worked very closely with African-American revolutionary nationalists where both sides agreed that there was no prospect of unification, but where a close relationship was useful in order to advance the work. This approach is important with all social-movement Lefts. Building national, real-world project(s): It is important for Left formations and individuals to engage in national-level projects. Such projects should not be fanciful inventions just to bring us together, but should be based on an analysis of realworld events and the manner in which the Left can both contribute to and gain from active participation. This breaks down the sense of isolation that so often haunts the movement. But it also demonstrates the impact that the Left can have on real-world events. The Jesse Jackson Presidential campaigns of 1984 and especially 1988 were interesting examples of where the Left did have considerable impact. Individual Leftists played prominent roles in the campaign, including developing positions (platforms) and organizing constituencies that might otherwise have failed to engage with the campaign. In some cases, forces from different Left groupings were able to work together to build the campaigns in their areas. Had the Left been more united, we would have had a more significant impact. Building international Left cooperation and solidarity: Regularly ignored in the US by most of the Left is the question of international solidarity within the global revolutionary Left. This is not a call for the creation of a new Communist International or similar formation, but there are interesting global dialogues unfolding that are bringing together forces that might not otherwise interact. The Sao Paulo Forum, for instance, brings together a cross-section of the Latin American Left. The World Social Forum has shown itself to be a very useful meeting ground. Within the international trade union movement, there havebeen South-South dialogues between the Congress of South African Trade Unions, the Brazilian Central Única dos Trabalhadores, and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions— unions either led by Leftists or where the Left plays a major role. For us in the US, we need to look at such global interactions as an opportunity to learn from other experiences, strategize in addressing issues of common concern, and educate our
respective members and base concerning issues facing oppressed people internationally so that we can build a stronger domestic movement against US imperialism. We should discuss building a movement in the US against empire that can be seen as part of an international united front against imperialism with the US as the main enemy. Going multi-generational: The notion that every generation needs to start over and create its own organizations carries major weight. It is, nevertheless, problematic. There is immense knowledge and experience that crosses generational lines. Left Refoundation, as we have reiterated, is not solely or mainly about the coming together of existing organizations. It is about laying the conditions for the revitalization of the revolutionary Left and the building of a party for socialism. It requires that older organizations and activists be open to listening to and following the initiatives of newer formations and younger activists—something that has proven difficult for many. This will mean a continuous process of cultural change, a cultural revolution so to speak, as different age groups lend their voices to the process of rebuilding the revolutionary Left.
Jodeen Freeman, The Tyranny of Structurelessness During the years in which the women’s liberation movement has been taking shape, a great emphasis has been placed on what are called leaderless, structureless groups as the main — if not sole — organizational form of the movement. The source of this idea was a natural reaction against the overstructured society in which most of us found ourselves, the inevitable control this gave others over our lives, and the continual elitism of the Left and similar groups among those who were supposedly fighting this overstructuredness. The idea of “structurelessness,” however, has moved from a healthy counter to those tendencies to becoming a goddess in its own right. The idea is as little examined as the term is much used, but it has become an intrinsic and unquestioned part of women’s liberation ideology. For the early development of the movement this did not much matter. It early defined its main goal, and its main method, as consciousness-raising, and the “structureless rap group” was an excellent means to this end. The looseness and informality of it encouraged participation in discussion, and its often supportive atmosphere elicited personal insight. If nothing more concrete than personal insight ever resulted from these groups, that did not much matter, because their purpose did not really extend beyond this. The basic problems didn’t appear until individual rap groups exhausted the virtues of consciousness-raising and decided they wanted to do something more specific. At this point they usually floundered because most groups were unwilling to change their structure when they changed their tasks. Women had thoroughly accepted the idea of “structurelessness” without realizing the limitations of its uses. People would try to use the “structureless” group and the informal conference for purposes for which they were unsuitable out of a blind belief that no other means could possibly be anything but oppressive. If the movement is to grow beyond these elementary stages of development, it will have to disabuse itself of some of its prejudices about organization and structure. There is nothing inherently bad about either of these. They can be and often are misused, but to reject them out of hand because they are misused is to deny ourselves the necessary tools to further development. We need to understand why “structurelessness” does not work.
Formal and Informal Structures
Contrary to what we would like to believe, there is no such thing as a “structureless” group. Any group of people of whatever nature that comes together for any length of time for any purpose will inevitably structure itself in some fashion. The structure may be flexible; it may
vary over time; it may evenly or unevenly distribute tasks, power and resources over the members of the group. But it will be formed regardless of the abilities, personalities, or intentions of the people involved. The very fact that we are individuals, with different talents, predispositions, and backgrounds, makes this inevitable. Only if we refused to relate or interact on any basis whatsoever could we approximate structurelessness — and that is not the nature of a human group. This means that to strive for a structureless group is as useful, and as deceptive, as to aim at an “objective” news story, “value-free” social science, or a “free” economy. A “laissez faire” group is about as realistic as a “laissez faire” society; the idea becomes a smokescreen for the strong or the lucky to establish unquestioned hegemony over others. This hegemony can soeasily be established because the idea of “structurelessness” does not prevent the formation of informal structures, only formal ones. Similarly “laissez faire” philosophy did not prevent the economically powerful from establishing control over wages, prices, and distribution of goods; it only prevented the government from doing so. Thus structurelessness becomes a way of masking power, and within the women’s movement it is usually most strongly advocated by those who are the most powerful (whether they are conscious of their power or not). As long as the structure of the group is informal, the rules of how decisions are made are known only to a few and awareness of power is limited to those who know the rules. Those who do not know the rules and are not chosen for initiation must remain in confusion, or suffer from paranoid delusions that something is happening of which they are not quite aware. For everyone to have the opportunity to be involved in a given group and to participate in its activities the structure must be explicit, not implicit. The rules of decision-making must be open and available to everyone, and this can happen only if they are formalized. This is not to say that formalization of a structure of a group will destroy the informal structure. It usually doesn’t. But it does hinder the informal structure from having predominant control and makes available some means of attacking it if the people involved are not at least responsible to the needs of the group at large. “Structurelessness” is organizationally impossible. We cannot decide whether to have a structured or structureless group, only whether or not to have aformally structured one. Therefore the word will not be used any longer except to refer to the idea it represents. “Unstructured” will refer to those groups which have not been deliberately structured in a particular manner. “Structured” will refer to those which have. A structured group always has formal structure, and may also have an informal, or covert, structure. It is this informal structure, particularly in
unstructured groups, which forms the basis for elites.
The Nature of Elitism
“Elitist” is probably the most abused word in the women’s liberation movement. It is used as frequently, and for the same reasons, as “pinko” was used in the fifties. It is rarely used correctly. Within the movement it commonly refers to individuals, though the personal characteristics and activities of those to whom it is directed may differ widely. An individual, as an individual, can never be an elitist, because the only proper application of the term “elite” is to groups. Any individual, regardless of how well-known that person may be, can never be an elite. Correctly, an elite refers to a small group of people who have power over a larger group of which they are part, usually without direct responsibility to that larger group, and often without their knowledge or consent. A person becomes an elitist by being part of, or advocating the rule by, such a small group, whether or not that individual is well known or not known at all. Notoriety is not a definition of an elitist. The most insidious elites are usually run by people not known to the larger public at all. Intelligent elitists are usually smart enough not to allow themselves to become well known; when they become known, they are watched, and the mask over their power is no longer firmly lodged. Elites are not conspiracies. Very seldom does a small group of people get together and deliberately try to take over a larger group for its own ends. Elites are nothing more, and nothing less, than groups of friends who also happen to participate in the same political activities. They would probably maintain their friendship whether or not they were involved in political activities; they would probably be involved in political activities whether or not they maintained their friendships. It is the coincidence of these two phenomena which creates elites in any group and makes them so difficult to break. These friendship groups function as networks of communication outside any regular channels for such communication that may have been set up by a group. If no channels are set up, they function as the only networks of communication. Because these people are friends, because they usually share the same values and orientations, because they talk to each other socially and consult with each other when common decisions have to be made, the people involved in these networks have more power in the group than those who don’t. And it is a rare group that does not establish some informal networks of communication through the friends that are made in it.
Some groups, depending on their size, may have more than one such informal communications network. Networks may even overlap. When only one such network exists, it is the elite of an otherwise unstructured group, whether the participants in it want to be elitists or not. If it is the only such network in a structured group it may or may not be an elite depending on its composition and the nature of the formal structure. If there are two or more such networks of friends, they may compete for power within the group, thus forming factions, or one may deliberately opt out of the competition, leaving the other as the elite. In a structured group, two or more such friendship networks usually compete with each other for formal power. This is often the healthiest situation, as the other members are in a position to arbitrate between the two competitors for power and thus to make demands of those to whom they give their temporary allegiance. The inevitably elitist and exclusive nature of informal communication networks of friends is neither a new phenomenon characteristic of the women’s movement nor a phenomenon new to women. Such informal relationships have excluded women for centuries from participating in integrated groups of which they were a part. In any profession or organization these networks have created the “locker room” mentality and the “old school” ties which have effectively prevented women as a group (as well as some men individually) from having equal access to the sources of power or social reward. Much of the energy of past women’s movements has been directed to having the structures of decision-making and the selection processes formalized so that the exclusion of women could be confronted directly. As we well know, these efforts have not prevented the informal male-only networks from discriminating against women, but they have made it more difficult. Because elites are informal does not mean they are invisible. At any small group meeting anyone with a sharp eye and an acute ear can tell who is influencing whom. The member of a friendship group will relate more to each other than to other people. They listen more attentively, and interrupt less; they repeat each other’s points and give in amiably; they tend to ignore or grapple with the “outs” whose approval is not necessary for making a decision. But it is necessary for the “outs” to stay on good terms with the “ins.” Of course the lines are not as sharp as I have drawn them. They are nuances of interaction, not prewritten scripts. But they are discernible, and they do have their effect. Once one knows with whom it is important to check before a decision is made, and whose approval is the stamp of acceptance, one knows who is running things. Since movement groups have made no concrete decisions about who shall exercise power within them, many different criteria are used around the country. Most criteria are along the lines of traditional
female characteristics. For instance, in the early days of the movement, marriage was usually a prerequisite for participation in the informal elite. As women have been traditionally taught, married women relate primarily to each other, and look upon single women as too threatening to have as close friends. In many cities, this criterion was further refined to include only those women married to New Left men. This standard had more than tradition behind it, however, because New Left men often had access to resources needed by the movement — such as mailing lists, printing presses, contacts, and information — and women were used to getting what they needed through men rather than independently. As the movement has changed through time, marriage has become a less universal criterion for effective participation, but all informal elites establish standards by which only women who possess certain material or personal characteristics may join. They frequently include: middle-class background (despite all the rhetoric about relating to the working class); being married;not being married but living with someone; being or pretending to be a lesbian; being between the ages of twenty and thirty; being college educated or at least having some college background; being “hip”; not being too “hip”; holding a certain political line or identification as a “radical”; having children or at least liking them; not having children; having certain “feminine” personality characteristics such as being “nice”; dressing right (whether in the traditional style or the antitraditional style); etc. There are also some characteristics which will almost always tag one as a “deviant” who should not be related to. They include: being too old; working fulltime, particularly if one is actively committed to a “career”; not being “nice”; and being avowedly single (i.e. neither heterosexual nor homosexual). Other criteria could be included, but they all have common themes. The characteristics prerequisite for participating in the informal elites of the movement, and thus for exercising power, concern one’s background, personality, or allocation of time. They do not include one’s competence, dedication to feminism, talents, or potential contribution to the movement. The former are the criteria one usually uses in determining one’s friends. The latter are what any movement or organization has to use if it is going to be politically effective. The criteria of participation may differ from group to group, but the means of becoming a member of the informal elite if one meets those criteria are pretty much the same. The only main difference depends on whether one is in a group from the beginning, or joins it after it has begun. If involved from the beginning it is important to have as many of one’s personal friends as possible also join. If no one knows anyone else very well, then one must deliberately form friendships with a
select number and establish the informal interaction patterns crucial to the creation of an informal structure. Once the informal patterns are formed they act to maintain themselves, and one of the most successful tactics of maintenance is to continuously recruit new people who “fit in.” One joins such an elite much the same way one pledges a sorority. If perceived as a potential addition, one is “rushed” by the members of the informal structure and eventually either dropped or initiated. If the sorority is not politically aware enough to actively engage in this process itself it can be started by the outsider pretty much the same way one joins any private club. Find a sponsor, i.e., pick some member of the elite who appears to be well respected within it, and actively cultivate that person’s friendship. Eventually, she will most likely bring you into the inner circle. All of these procedures take time. So if one works full time or has a similar major commitment, it is usually impossible to join simply because there are not enough hours left to go to all the meetings and cultivate the personal relationships necessary to have a voice in the decision-making. That is why formal structures of decision-making are a boon to the overworked person. Having an established process for decision-making ensures that everyone can participate in it to some extent. Although this dissection of the process of elite formation within small groups has been critical in perspective, it is not made in the belief that these informal structures are inevitably bad — merely that they are inevitable. All groups create informal structures as a result of interaction patterns among the members of the group. Such informal structures can do very useful things. But only unstructured groups are totally governed by them. When informal elites are combined with a myth of “structurelessness,” there can be no attempt to put limits on the use of power. It becomes capricious. This has two potentially negative consequences of which we should be aware. The first is that the informal structure of decision-making will be much like a sorority — one in which people listen to others because they like them and not because they say significant things. As long as the movement does not do significant things this does not much matter. But if its development is not to be arrested at this preliminary stage, it will have to alter this trend. The second is that informal structures have no obligation to be responsible to the group at large. Their power was not given to them; it cannot be taken away. Their influence is not based on what they do for the group; therefore they cannot be directly influenced by the group. This does not necessarily make informal structures irresponsible. Those who are concerned with maintaining their influence will usually try to be responsible. The group simply cannot compel such responsibility; it is dependent on the
interests of the elite.
The “Star” System
The idea of “structurelessness” has created the “star” system. We live in a society which expects political groups to make decisions and to select people to articulate those decisions to the public at large. The press and the public do not know how to listen seriously to individual women as women; they want to know how the group feels. Only three techniques have ever been developed for establishing mass group opinion: the vote or referendum, the public opinion survey questionnaire, and the selection of group spokespeople at an appropriate meeting. The women’s liberation movement has used none of these to communicate with the public. Neither the movement as a whole nor most of the multitudinous groups within it have established a means of explaining their position on various issues. But the public is conditioned to look for spokespeople. While it has consciously not chosen spokespeople, the movement has thrown up many women who have caught the public eye for varying reasons. These women represent no particular group or established opinion; they know this and usually say so. But because there are no official spokespeople nor any decision-making body that the press can query when it wants to know the movement’s position on a subject, these women are perceived as the spokespeople. Thus, whether they want to or not, whether the movement likes it or not, women of public note are put in the role of spokespeople by default. This is one source of the ire that is often felt towards the women who are labeled “stars.” Because they were not selected by the women in the movement to represent the movement’s views, they are resented when the press presumes that they speak for the movement. But as long as the movement does not select its own spokeswomen, such women will be placed in that role by the press and the public, regardless of their desires. This has several negative consequences for both the movement and the women labeled “stars.” First, because the movement didn’t put them in the role of spokesperson, the movement cannot remove them. The press put them there and only the press can choose not to listen. The press will continue to look to “stars” as spokeswomen as long as it has no official alternatives to go to for authoritative statements from the movement. The movement has no control in the selection of its representatives to the public as long as it believes that it should have no representatives at all. Second, women put in this position often find themselves viciously attacked by their sisters. This achieves nothing for the movement and is painfully destructive to the individuals
involved. Such attacks only result in either the woman leaving the movement entirely — often bitterly alienated — or in her ceasing to feel responsible to her “sisters.” She may maintain some loyalty to the movement, vaguely defined, but she is no longer susceptible to pressures from other women in it. One cannot feel responsible to people who have been the source of such pain without being a masochist, and these women are usually too strong to bow to that kind of personal pressure. Thus the backlash to the “star” system in effect encourages the very kind of individualistic nonresponsibility that the movement condemns. By purging a sister as a “star,” the movement loses whatever control it may have had over the person who then becomes free to commit all of the individualistic sins of which she has been accused.
Unstructured groups may be very effective in getting women to talk about their lives; they aren’t very good for getting things done. It is when people get tired of “just talking” and want to do something more that the groups flounder, unless they change the nature of their operation. Occasionally, the developed informal structure of the group coincides with an available need that the group can fill in such a way as to give the appearance that an unstructured group “works.” That is, the group has fortuitously developed precisely the kind of structure best suited for engaging in a particular project. While working in this kind of group is a very heady experience, it is also rare and very hard to replicate. There are almost inevitably four conditions found in such a group: 1) It is task oriented. Its function is very narrow and very specific, like putting on a conference or putting out a newspaper. It is the task that basically structures the group. The task determines what needs to be done and when it needs to be done. It provides a guide by which people can judge their actions and make plans for future activity. 2) It is relatively small and homogeneous. Homogeneity is necessary to ensure that participants have a “common language” or interaction. People from widely different backgrounds may provide richness to a consciousness-raising group where each can learn from the others’ experience, but too great a diversity among members of a taskoriented group means only that they continually misunderstand each other. Such diverse people interpret words and actions differently. They have different expectations about each other’s behavior and judge the results according to different criteria. If everyone knows everyone else well enough to understand the nuances, these can be accommodated. Usually, they only lead to confusion and endless hours
spent straightening out conflicts no one ever thought would arise. 3) There is a high degree of communication. Information must be passed on to everyone, opinions checked, work divided up, and participation assured in the relevant decisions. This is only possible if the group is small and people practically live together for the most crucial phases of the task. Needless to say, the number of interactions necessary to involve everybody increases geometrically with the number of participants. This inevitably limits group participants to about five, or excludes some from some of the decisions. Successful groups can be as large as 10 or 15, but only when they are in fact composed of several smaller subgroups which perform specific parts of the task, and whose members overlap with each other so that knowledge of what the different subgroups are doing can be passed around easily. 4) There is a low degree of skill specialization. Not everyone has to be able to do everything, but everything must be able to be done by more than one person. Thus no one is indispensable. To a certain extent, people become interchangeable parts. While these conditions can occur serendipitously in small groups, this is not possible in large ones. Consequently, because the larger movement in most cities is as unstructured as individual rap groups, it is not too much more effective than the separate groups at specific tasks. The informal structure is rarely together enough or in touch enough with the people to be able to operate effectively. So the movement generates much motion and few results. Unfortunately, the consequences of all this motion are not as innocuous as the results, and their victim is the movement itself. Some groups have formed themselves into local action projects if they do not involve many people and work on a small scale. But this form restricts movement activity to the local level; it cannot be done on the regional or national. Also, to function well the groups must usually pare themselves down to that informal group of friends who were running things in the first place. This excludes many women from participating. As long as the only way women can participate in the movement is through membership in a small group, the nongregarious are at a distinct disadvantage. As long as friendship groups are the main means of organizational activity, elitism becomes institutionalized. For those groups which cannot find a local project to which to devote themselves, the mere act of staying together becomes the reason for their staying together. When a group has no specific task (and consciousness-raising is a task), the people in it turn their energies to controlling others in the group. This is not done so much out of a
malicious desire to manipulate others (though sometimes it is) as out of a lack of anything better to do with their talents. Able people with time on their hands and a need to justify their coming together put their efforts into personal control, and spend their time criticizing the personalities of the other members in the group. Infighting and personal power games rule the day. When a group is involved in a task, people learn to get along with others as they are and to subsume personal dislikes for the sake of the larger goal. There are limits placed on the compulsion to remold every person in our image of what they should be. The end of consciousness-raising leaves people with no place to go, and the lack of structure leaves them with no way of getting there. The women the movement either turn in on themselves and their sisters or seek other alternatives of action. There are few that are available. Some women just “do their own thing.” This can lead to a great deal of individual creativity, much of which is useful for the movement, but it is not a viable alternative for most women and certainly does not foster a spirit of cooperative group effort. Other women drift out of the movement entirely because they don’t want to develop an individual project and they have found no way of discovering, joining, or starting group projects that interest them. Many turn to other political organizations to give them the kind of structured, effective activity that they have not been able to find in the women’s movement. Those political organizations which see women’s liberation as only one of many issues to which women should devote their time thus find the movement a vast recruiting ground for new members. There is no need for such organizations to “infiltrate” (though this is not precluded). The desire for meaningful political activity generated in women by their becoming part of the women’s liberation movement is sufficient to make them eager to join other organizations when the movement itself provides no outlets for their new ideas and energies. Those women who join other political organizations while remaining within the women’s liberation movement, or who join women’s liberation while remaining in other political organizations, in turn become the framework for new informal structures. These friendship networks are based upon their common nonfeminist politics rather than the characteristics discussed earlier, but operate in much the same way. Because these women share common values, ideas, and political orientations, they too become informal, unplanned, unselected, unresponsible elites — whether they intend to be so or not. These new informal elites are often perceived as threats by the old informal elites previously developed within different movement groups.
This is a correct perception. Such politically oriented networks are rarely willing to be merely “sororities” as many of the old ones were, and want to proselytize their political as well as their feminist ideas. This is only natural, but its implications for women’s liberation have never been adequately discussed. The old elites are rarely willing to bring such differences of opinion out into the open because it would involve exposing the nature of the informal structure of the group. Many of these informal elites have been hiding under the banner of “anti-elitism” and “structurelessness.” To effectively counter the competition from another informal structure, they would have to become “public,” and this possibility is fraught with many dangerous implications. Thus, to maintain its own power, it is easier to rationalize the exclusion of the members of the other informal structure by such means as “red-baiting,” “reformist-baiting,” “lesbian-baiting,” or “straight-baiting.” The only other alternative is to formally structure the group in such a way that the original power structure is institutionalized. This is not always possible. If the informal elites have been well structured and have exercised a fair amount of power in the past, such a task is feasible. These groups have a history of being somewhat politically effective in the past, as the tightness of the informal structure has proven an adequate substitute for a formal structure. Becoming structured does not alter their operation much, though the institutionalization of the power structure does open it to formal challenge. It is those groups which are in greatest need of structure that are often least capable of creating it. Their informal structures have not been too well formed and adherence to the ideology of “structurelessness” makes them reluctant to change tactics. The more unstructured a group is, the more lacking it is in informal structures, and the more it adheres to an ideology of “structurelessness,” the more vulnerable it is to being taken over by a group of political comrades. Since the movement at large is just as unstructured as most of its constituent groups, it is similarly susceptible to indirect influence. But the phenomenon manifests itself differently. On a local level most groups can operate autonomously; but the only groups that can organize a national activity are nationally organized groups. Thus, it is often the structured feminist organizations that provide national direction for feminist activities, and this direction is determined by the priorities of those organizations. Such groups as NOW, WEAL, and some leftist women’s caucuses are simply the only organizations capable of mounting a national campaign. The multitude of unstructured women’s liberation groups can choose to support or not support the national campaigns, but are incapable of mounting their own. Thus their members become the troops under the leadership of the structured organizations. The avowedlyunstructured
group has no way of drawing upon the movement’s vast resources to support its priorities. It doesn’t even have a way of deciding what those priorities are. The more unstructured a movement is, the less control it has over the directions in which it develops and the political actions in which it engages. This does not mean that its ideas do not spread. Given a certain amount of interest by the media and the appropriateness of social conditions, the ideas will still be diffused widely. But diffusion of ideas does not mean they are implemented; it only means they are talked about. Insofar as they can be applied individually they may be acted on; insofar as they require coordinated political power to be implemented, they will not be. As long as the women’s liberation movement stays dedicated to a form of organization which stresses small, inactive discussion groups among friends, the worst problems ofunstructuredness will not be felt. But this style of organization has its limits; it is politically inefficacious, exclusive, and discriminatory against those women who are not or cannot be tied into the friendship networks. Those who do not fit into what already exists because of class, race, occupation, education, parental or marital status, personality, etc., will inevitably be discouraged from trying to participate. Those who do fit in will develop vested interests in maintaining things as they are. The informal groups’ vested interests will be sustained by the informal structures which exist, and the movement will have no way of determining who shall exercise power within it. If the movement continues deliberately to not select who shall exercise power, it does not thereby abolish power. All it does is abdicate the right to demand that those who do exercise power and influence be responsible for it. If the movement continues to keep power as diffuse as possible because it knows it cannot demand responsibility from those who have it, it does prevent any group or person from totally dominating. But it simultaneously ensures that the movement is as ineffective as possible. Some middle ground between domination and ineffectiveness can and must be found. These problems are coming to a head at this time because the nature of the movement is necessarily changing. Consciousness-raising as the main function of the women’s liberation movement is becoming obsolete. Due to the intense press publicity of the last two years and the numerous overground books and articles now being circulated, women’s liberation has become a household word. Its issues are discussed and informal rap groups are formed by people who have no explicit connection with any movement group. The movement must go on to other tasks. It now needs to establish its priorities, articulate its
goals, and pursue its objectives in a coordinated fashion. To do this it must get organized — locally, regionally, and nationally.
Principles of Democratic Structuring
Once the movement no longer clings tenaciously to the ideology of “structurelessness,” it is free to develop those forms of organization best suited to its healthy functioning. This does not mean that we should go to the other extreme and blindly imitate the traditional forms of organization. But neither should we blindly reject them all. Some of the traditional techniques will prove useful, albeit not perfect; some will give us insights into what we should and should not do to obtain certain ends with minimal costs to the individuals in the movement. Mostly, we will have to experiment with different kinds of structuring and develop a variety of techniques to use for different situations. The Lot System is one such idea which has emerged from the movement. It is not applicable to all situations, but is useful in some. Other ideas for structuring are needed. But before we can proceed to experiment intelligently, we must accept the idea that there is nothing inherently bad about structure itself — only its excess use. While engaging in this trial-and-error process, there are some principles we can keep in mind that are essential to democratic structuring and are also politically effective: 1) Delegation of specific authority to specific individuals for specific tasks by democratic procedures. Letting people assume jobs or tasks only by default means they are not dependably done. If people are selected to do a task, preferably after expressing an interest or willingness to do it, they have made a commitment which cannot so easily be ignored. 2) Requiring all those to whom authority has been delegated to be responsible to those who selected them. This is how the group has control over people in positions of authority. Individuals may exercise power, but it is the group that has ultimate say over how the power is exercised. 3) Distribution of authority among as many people as is reasonably possible. This prevents monopoly of power and requires those in positions of authority to consult with many others in the process of exercising it. It also gives many people the opportunity to have responsibility for specific tasks and thereby to learn different skills. 4) Rotation of tasks among individuals. Responsibilities which are held too long by one person, formally or informally, come to be seen as that person’s “property” and are not easily relinquished or controlled by the group. Conversely, if tasks are rotated too frequently the individual
does not have time to learn her job well and acquire the sense of satisfaction of doing a good job. 5) Allocation of tasks along rational criteria. Selecting someone for a position because they are liked by the group or giving them hard work because they are disliked serves neither the group nor the person in the long run. Ability, interest, and responsibility have got to be the major concerns in such selection. People should be given an opportunity to learn skills they do not have, but this is best done through some sort of “apprenticeship” program rather than the “sink or swim” method. Having a responsibility one can’t handle well is demoralizing. Conversely, being blacklisted from doing what one can do well does not encourage one to develop one’s skills. Women have been punished for being competent throughout most of human history; the movement does not need to repeat this process. 6) Diffusion of information to everyone as frequently as possible. Information is power. Access to information enhances one’s power. When an informal network spreads new ideas and information among themselves outside the group, they are already engaged in the process of forming an opinion — without the group participating. The more one knows about how things work and what is happening, the more politically effective one can be. 7) Equal access to resources needed by the group. This is not always perfectly possible, but should be striven for. A member who maintains a monopoly over a needed resource (like a printing press owned by a husband, or a darkroom) can unduly influence the use of that resource. Skills and information are also resources. Members’ skills can be equitably available only when members are willing to teach what they know to others. When these principles are applied, they ensure that whatever structures are developed by different movement groups will be controlled by and responsible to the group. The group of people in positions of authority will be diffuse, flexible, open, and temporary. They will not be in such an easy position to institutionalize their power because ultimate decisions will be made by the group at large, The group will have the power to determine who shall exercise authority within it.
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