To have dialog with friends, I have shared this note. Because of work I have had to pull away from true OSR activism for the last three months and will be away for another three weeks or so. I felt a lack of standing to make observations. Each suggested I share this. These thoughts are not a critique of our work over the winter. My view is that amazing work has been done. We have become so much more concrete, outreach to our communities at a much higher and targeted level and we are much more aware of the conditions of and tied to the facts of our area’s people. Both our independence has grown while important coalitions have been and are being built. As I said to my family and friends these thoughts are my concerns at the “foundation” level. I believe we all are bit blind and only see part of the elephant; this is the part I see. . In solidarity -newman
Some Foundations for Strategy
For me – Who are we and how do we best be us?
A historical moment called us; we must trust the truth of that moment and reflect it as honestly as we can. Being aware of what moment called, trusting in the depth of what undergirds a true historical moment and keeping to the message of that moment is difficult but necessary.
Several decades of heightened massive misery in the face of great wealth underlies our magnetism. This is the core of the call. We must stay loyal to that core if we intend to pull from the mass of people constituting our core within the population.
To tell what we do and how we do it we have to study the moment. I believe our moment is best characterized as a populist moment. This means that economics is the driving force underlying our popularity. It means that spreading wealth is what we are called on to do.
There were several properties to the work of populist when populist midwifed real change. They spoke clearly and honestly about one class hurting another. They spoke straightforwardly about the necessity of understanding the class character of the fight. Our Occupations have also done this. We have been attractive to the population because of this straight talk about what is real and already known by most.
The populist of the 1880’s and 1890’s (a time very much like our own) were also straight forward about needing the stir the antagonism- not shy away from it or call it by some softer name. Miscalling this economic relationship, a rightist mistakes, and miscalling its likely outcome, a leftist mistake, are two of the main possible causes of our being historically sidelined.
This necessity to stir and not calm things has also been a property of Occupations magnetism. I believe it is this honesty that some are now asking us to leave in order that we regain attractiveness. We should do the opposite- we should move to the center of the hurt with a clear and honest assessment of who is causing the hurt and what can be done about it.
While “the Call” requires us to understand and state and restate the essential class character of this moment, it also requires us to understand that the remedy is neither socialism nor anarchism nor capitalism, as we have ever known it. The populist of our own history fought for immediate redistribution of wealth by taxation of all forms of wealth, direct redistribution of the regained wealth, and restrictions on its re-accumulation via limited state ownership, limits on wealth, its generational transfer, as well as limiting the legal forms of business and ownership i.e. our corporate reforms.
I believe we risk losing the basis for a truly mass movement if we veer to far off the left populist track- that is too far off taking our money back from the thieves, redistributing that money directly to the people and limiting the power to re -concentrate big private wealth.
This poses a problem when working in coalitions that have not emerged into this moment but have been around working for many years. They may not believe as we do that we can bring new forces in because of our particular message. If we are to serve those struggles as good faith partners our job is to add to them our populist edge- the spark we embody. It is not simply to take their goals and add person power to their effort. Doing anything other than taking the particular issue and working it from a populist vantage point is mis-serving our coalition partners. That is, if we actually believe we reflect a particularity of our times. All we do should state our view of the clash of the haves and the had, all the time agitating the injured to fight for their share from the uppers, and showing how doing so also involves this particular fight i.e. the fight against the also racist and sexist nature of 1% rule.
Another practical problem is how to respond to those in the middle asking us to move to the middle to survive. Moving to the center of the political spectrum instead of moving to the center of those seriously injured by the present wealth and power spread, as a strategy, is a fundamental mistake. This position is, I think but am not sure, a plea to pull back from a clear demand for major re distributions of wealth as between the broad sections of workers and large capital owners. It also seems a plea for less conflict language.
Here I am not referring to the call for less violence. Less violence, indeed no violence is literally a condition of survival for any actual radical movement. I am referring to what seems to be a call to be more “we are all- ultimately- in the same boat” type language. (Mixing- I think superficially- spiritual truths with economic truths and truths about successful mass agitation in our past) I believe the successful populist agitations of the past did the opposite. Again, the central “techniques” of the large populist movements were a determination to speak honestly and to agitate more not less conflict between those whose economic interest were in actual conflict. To do less has no historical precedent to it and I think will cause us to run out of people gas before we get to anything but the cheaper reforms- the ones that ultimately only save the jobs of those injured by the “austerity” problem.
To follow the populist of the past suggestions would mean we seek out and outreach to the traditional working class and also to the austerity hit new deal structure, like unionized teachers. We do so articulating their present circumstances in the context of a repeated clear view toward direct redistributions of wealth. We move to those actually hurt by the shrinkage upward – again to the center the victims – agitating not smoothing over the actual conflicts and targeting the lower to lower middle of the 99 making sure that the upper middle and upper of the 99 come to us committed to improving the life of the mass of our population. This gets part of them (the middle and upper of the 99%) and more and more of the mass of working people- who are again the only folks- if history tells us anything- with the mass necessary to carry out wealth redistributions.
A moment on why redistribution is necessary and a primary goal over the corporate reforms prong, if passed without redistributions. It is the infra structure of wealth that moves politics and super structure forms. If we take corporations out of the political money game and leave the wealth behind them in tack, without moving massive amounts of it to the antagonist of big wealth, big wealth will simply re- enter in many varied private forms. It is also obvious that without weakening the wealthy and distributing directly to the population bread and butter unionism and the welfare state including it public educations components did not achieve this. Preliminary reforms that might lead to redistributions- to changes in relative class power- do not do so because redistributive reforms depend on mass struggle at its height. Expending the mass crescendo on less than significant redistributions dissipates the movement on preliminaries that then do not have the strength to affect the infrastructure of power. The preliminaries then become meaningless or even tools of the uppers i.e. the National Labor Relations Act.
Trying to represent all the “99%” is an internal problem. This struggle is a class driven struggle. Trying to deny it or obscure it will weaken our attraction of the massive impoverished working classes. The relatively rich can join us because they understand we represent the only way they can continue to exist if they can. But we do not pull our class struggle honesty to accommodate the relative few of the relatively well off that will stay the course for working class reforms.
If history speaks of anything it speaks of middle class abandonment of working class power reforms when the middle classes’ issues, which for the most part do not actually weaken high wealth, are taken care of. History also tells us that the only time progressive politics has been truly popular and massive was when the consciousness of the movement stated honestly what the people knew- that there is a class struggle always going on in capitalism and if we are to change the balance we have to use honesty around this historical fact to agitate the class struggle not settle it when only a few get taken care of. We can speak of the 99% but if we tailor our demands around those in the upper echelons of this percentage we will grow only in superficiality, and therefore positive news coverage and historical insignificance.
Outside of specific coalitions work mentioned above I think laundry listing our demands is also a mistake. We will become an umbrella, and anyone with experience in umbrella work knows how “separating “this kind of work actually turns out to be. Also, how few masses are really involved in these coalitions of ”mass” organizations. More or less the last 50 years have shown me that a fight articulating the specific demands of a somewhat small section of our people does not work. As an example, I think we better support the achieving of immigration reform etc by bringing to those struggles the attraction that will result from our staying on our universal populist message with constant targeted outreach and with actions that specifically reflect class antagonistic populism. Again this does not mean that we do not work in coalitions with already existing focused groups, nor does it mean we do not work for specific demands – local and state wealth tax, divestment from Wells Fargo, anti-racist/sexist demands that go to the economics of racism and patriarchy. It does mean we do it by putting our populist perspective all over everything we do or we do not do it- we simply support it. Our core perspective is universally unifying. People need to want to coalesce with us because we have taken our economic message (constantly targeted) to those hurt by the present economics and have brought in numbers that have not heretofore responded to the attraction of the more particular struggles like immigration reform.
I have used ”constant” and ’repeatedly” over and over in this note. If we think we can change economic infrastructure by demonstrations of the already convinced we are badly mistaken about what level of masses have been involved in past periods of change and what masses will have to be involved now.
We cannot tailor our struggle to bring in all activist, we must get to and bring in the injured and sympathetic not now active.
We must focus on and understand the importance of popular consciousness. Popular consciousness is formed around reality- usually honestly and more or less correctly perceived reality . Sometimes, actually more often than not and more correct at its core than that perceived by those of us who feel we are “more intelligent” than our people. Workers know the owners take too much. They know the owners will not voluntarily give it back. This problem is that popular consciousness is usually a consciousness of just 4 or 5 broad understandings. We have to articulate those already broadly understood phenomena effectively and repeatedly i.e. the rich are rich because they have too much and working people get too little. This is not speaking down. There actually are only a few board truths- they just have many ripples in our lives and different ripples in different lives.
But it is these broad frames that we must always put forward. Constantly. Targeted. Redundantly. No successful movement has had 100 basic reframes – this was true of the industrial union struggle of the 30s, the populist take over of several states in the 1890s, and even the civil rights movement in the south- the three largest and most effective mass people’s movements I am aware of.
Thus to me, we need to commit ourselves to a central message around which we can all work on the different aspects of this struggle that attracts our hearts. We need to do these various aspects in a way that reiterates over and over the central issues and therefore raises consciousness about the need for radical economic reform and in so doing attracts those that were attracted to begin with and grows that number. This focuses on the only actual critical mass that has ever changed our society economic history- the mass of working people as working people.
We need to attract them by agitating the class struggle they already know about – the one they live in- and doing so in honest terms that reflect their actual experience not our intellectual reinterpretation- i.e. soft watered terms. This means that we need to say over and over something like, “if you got trouble it is because someone very rich, someone who does not need your money but wants it and has stolen it from you in order to buy a $5,000 vase for $100.00 flowers for their 5th home. They will keep stealing it from you and your kids unless you join us to tax them if not out of existence then almost out of existence as we also take away their many ways of regaining super wealth to hurt us again. Take back our wealth and our political system. Join us, we are you and we will not stop until the rich do not own our government or have our money – which means taking both from them. “
I am hopeful this does not sound too stiff- too narrow. I am not suggesting a narrow approach, rather one that brings the universality of economic exploitation and the present popularity of that struggle to all struggles we enter. As well I am suggesting that if we do not repeat, repeat, repeat and outreach outreach and outreach our two inter-related populist prongs- redistribution of wealth and restriction on it re-accumulation – we will not grow and will lose our base. Our base came forward spontaneously from years of neglect and soft untruthful “around the barn” confusing class language. I am hopeful we do not go back to trying to attract the softest among us; rather we raise our own consciousness about what our historical moment is and what its envelope can contain.