Saturday, April 16, 2016

Updating Our Strategy: Revisiting the U.S. ‘Six Party System’ Hypothesis

By Carl Davidson
Keep on Keepin’ On

“Successful strategic thinking starts with gaining knowledge, particular gaining adequate knowledge of the big picture; of all the political and economic forces involved…It’s not a one-shot deal. Since both Heaven and Earth are always changing, strategic thinking must always be kept up to date, reassessed and revised.”

This statement was part of the opening to a widely circulated article I wrote about two years ago, ‘Strategic Thinking on the U.S. Six Party System.’ It’s time to take my own advice, and reassess the working hypothesis I put forward back then.

For the most part, the strategic picture holds. I suggested setting aside the traditional ‘two party system’ frame, which obscures far more than it reveals, and making use of a ‘six party’ model instead. The new hypothesis, I suggested, had far more explanatory power regarding the events unfolding before us. Some critics have objected to my use of the term ‘party’ for what are really factional or interest group clusters. The point is taken, but I would also argue that US major parties in general are not ideological parties in the European sense, but constantly changing coalitions of these clusters with no firm commitment to program or discipline. So I will continue to use ‘parties,’ but with the objection noted.

The ‘six parties’, under two tents, were labeled as the Tea Party and the Multinationalists under the GOP tent, and the Blue Dogs, the Third Way New Democrats, the Old New Dealers, and the Congressional Progressive Caucus, under the Democratic tent. Most of these made at least one Presidential candidate as their voice—Bernie Sanders for the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Martin O’Malley for the Old New Dealers, Hillary Clinton for the Third Way, Jim Webb for the Blue Dogs, Jeb Bush and Mario Rubio for the Multinationalists, and a mixed bag under Tea Party (The GOP had 17 contenders starting off, and Hillary nearly hegemonic in the Democrats).

The changes, however, are important. Instead of four under the Dem tent and two under the GOP tent, we now have three under each. First and most important for us on the left was the rise of Bernie Sanders, who showed far more strength than imagined.  Second was the dramatic and unexpected flowering of Trump and rightwing populism on the right. Both of these, from different directions, challenged, narrowed and weakened the dominant neoliberal hegemonic bloc, which spanned both the GOP multinationals and the Third Way Democrats. Here’s a new snapshot of the range of forces for today, starting from the left side:

The Rainbow Social Democrats. This is a better description than simply calling it the Congressional Progressive Caucus. It doesn’t mean each leader active here is in a social-democrat group. It means the core of the CPC platform is roughly similar to the left social democrat groupings in Europe, and this is made even more evident with Bernie’s self-description as a ‘democratic socialist.’ It must be noted, however, that even though he’s made the term ‘democratic socialist’ more popular and acceptable, he’s not running on socialism, but on a platform best described as a common front vs finance capital, war and the right. This is true of groups like Die Linke (‘The Left’) in Germany as well. This is good, since it can unite more than a militant minority of actual socialists. Instead it’s a platform that can also unite a progressive majority around both immediate needs and structural reforms, including both socialists and non-socialists. For details, see Bernie’s full platform at Joining with Sanders in the Congressional Progressive Caucus, are PDA leaders such as Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Rep Barbara Lee of California–all key voices  giving the ‘party’ a ‘rainbow’ character.

It needs to be noted, though, that the Congressional Black Caucus, a close overlapping ally of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, has largely gone over to Hillary and the Third way grouping, with the result of only 3 out of 10 Black voters currently going for Sanders. Sanders does manage to win Latino voters by larger numbers. For example, all the Latino wards in Chicago on the Second Super Tuesday went for Sanders, while the Black wards continued to be dominated by Clinton.

Apart from winning several primaries with a positive, high road approach, this party is noted for two things: first, the huge, elemental outpourings of young people, mainly students and the young workers of  the distressed ‘precariat’ sector of the class, in gigantic rallies and ‘Bernie marches’; and second, by an incredible online fundraising machine, involving some 5 million donors, making small donations every few weeks or months, that enables the campaign to continue to thrive without ‘Super PACs’ or other wealthy donors. This points the way for candidates of the left in the future at all levels.

The Keynesian Liberal-Labor Bloc. Previously called the Old New Dealers, this is a bit more accurate as a label. It’s mainly the political action side of the AFL-CIO and their close allies in civil rights, women’s and retiree groups, and several related think tanks like Campaign for America’s Future. They are currently fence sitting, after O’Malley made a bid for their support, but collapsed. Many are leaning toward Hillary among the leadership of their base organizations, while many below lean toward Bernie. Expect them to side with Clinton in the end, since she has been going all out with a ‘united front from above’ approach to winning them to an alliance with her Third Way party. In similar fashion, Bernie has taken a ‘united front from below’ approach, aimed at the rank and file, that has won over the Transit Workers, Nurses, Postal Workers and Nurses unions, and former leaders of the NAACP like Ben Jealous. Once this party with its union base does get into motion; however, it has a powerful get-out-the-vote and educational apparatus. It will face a special problem, however, in winning workers at the base away from Trump, who are estimated at as much as 33% of white workers, although some of these workers may also be more inclined toward Sanders than Clinton.

The Third Way New Democrats. Formed by the Clintons, with an international assist from Tony Blair and others, and funded by Wall Street finance capitalists, their founding idea was to move toward neoliberalism by ‘creating distance’ between themselves and the traditional Left-Labor-Liberal bloc, the traditional unions and civil rights groups still connected to the New Deal legacy. Another part of the ‘Third Way’ thinking was to shift the key social base away from the core of the working class to college-educated suburban voters, but keeping its alliances with Black and women’s groups still functional.

Thus it tries to temper the harsher neoliberalism of the GOP by ‘triangulating’ with neo-Keynesian policies. But the overall effect is to move Democrats generally rightward. While this has been Hillary Clinton’s starting point, in the current campaign she has, piece by piece, adopted some positions, at least for the sake of campaigning, from both the Liberal-Labor bloc and the Rainbow Social Democrats to what she espouses in her stump speeches.

In terms of the current relation of forces, counting by delegates, Hillary currently has a two-to-one advantage over Bernie. The Third Way and allied groupings, however, are facing serious problems at the base. In many races, GOP turnout is up, while Democratic turnout is lackluster, save for the Bernie rallies. Part of this is racialized, with 90% or more Blacks favoring either Clinton or Sanders, while white workers are split, as just noted, with as much as a third going to Trump and the GOP.

The Blue Dogs. This party has collapsed. It presidential candidate, Jim Webb, dropped out after a few rounds in the debates where he gained little traction. He tried to combine pro-militarism with an ant-Iraq war stand. He then explored the prospects of a third party run, but recently held a press conference giving it up. He also indicated he was leaning toward Trump, which fits in with his Southern and Appalachian social base among military-industrial workers. The Blue dogs may return at some point, but we still get ‘six parties’ rather than five by new developments under the GOP tent, most importantly, the huge expansion and then division of the Tea Party into two parties.

The GOP Establishment. This is the name now widely used in the media for what we previously labeled the Multinationalists. It’s mainly the upper crust and neoliberal business elites that have owned and run the GOP for years, allied with the smaller groups of NeoCons on foreign policy, and opposed by the anti-global neo-isolationist nationalism in a sector of the GOP base, ie, the Tea Party. The Establishment also favored a US hegemonist and unilateralist approach abroad, with many still defending the Bush-Cheney disaster in Iraq. Their candidates were Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, but when both of these collapsed under fire from Donald Trump, their voice is now reduced to that of John Kasich, governor of Ohio. Kasich presents himself as a pragmatic, pro-worker neoliberal, a difficult circle to square. Previously dominant in the GOP, the Establishment forces are now weakened by both sides of the Tea Party split, the Rightwing Populists under Trump and the Christian Nationalist Theocrats under Senator Ted Cruz, who are currently both stronger in numbers than the ‘Establishment’ party. They could be pushed out entirely by the time of the Cleveland convention, and formally split into two.

The Christian Nationalist Theocrats. This is subset of the former Tea Party made up of several Christian rightist trends, some simply conservative while others are theocracy-minded fundamentalists, especially the ‘Dominionist’ sects of which Ted Cruz’s father is active. They present themselves as the only true, ‘values-centered’ (Biblical) conservatives. They argue against any kind of compromise with the ‘liberal-socialist bloc’, with ranges, in their view, from the GOP’s Mitt Romney to Bernie Sanders. They are more akin to classic liberalism than neoliberalism in economic policy, and thus stress abandoning nearly all regulations, much of the safety net, overturning Roe v. Wade, getting rid of marriage equality (in the name of ‘religious liberty’) and abolishing the IRS and any progressive taxation in favor of a single flat tax. Effectively, it amounts to affirmative action for the better off, and the rise of the rich is supposed to pull everyone else upwards as well. They do at times argue for neo-isolationism on some matters, but favor an all-out holy war on ‘radical Islamic terrorism,’ to the point of ‘making the sand glow,’ and stand for ripping up the Obama’s recent agreements with Iran and Cuba. With Cruz as its leader, they have become the second most powerful grouping under the GOP tent, and the one with the most reactionary platform and outlook, even more so than Trump.

The Rightwing Populists. Starting as still another subset of the Tea Party, this ‘party’ has mushroomed under the self-bankrolled Trump candidacy. Trump, an ‘outlier elite’ in his own right, is now positioned either to win the GOP nomination outright, or have a plurality of enough militant delegates at the GOP convention that the nomination will be given to him on the first or second ballots, or as Trump puts it, ‘there will be riots.’ Given the fact that as many as one-third of the traditional GOP base is refusing  to vote for Trump, with many willing to vote ‘third party’ if one shapes up, and since they believe Hilary will defeat Trump anyway, the GOP, at this time, is thus effectively split into three warring parties.

The core outlook of rightwing populism is ‘producerism’ vs ‘parasitism’. Employed workers, business owners, real estate developers, small bankers are all ‘producers’ and they oppose parasite groups above and below, but mainly those of  ‘the Other’ below them—the unemployed (Get a Job! as an epithet), the immigrants, poor people of color, Muslims, and more. Trump entered politics by declaring Obama to be an illegal alien and an illegitimate office holder (a parasite above), but quickly shifted to Mexicans and Muslims and anyone associated with ‘Black Lives Matter.’

Trump’s favored outlook has deep roots in American history, from the anti-Indian ethnic cleansing of President Andrew Jackson, to the nativism of the Know Nothings, to the lynch terror of the KKK, to the anti-elitism of George Wallace and the Dixiecrats. Internationally, he combines aggressive jingoism, threats of trade wars, and an isolationist ‘white nationalism’ aimed at getting others abroad to fight your battles for you.
Trump’s success, however, also contains his weakness: the support of distressed white workers. At present, they are forming the social basis of his victories, assuming they will get lush jobs with his ‘Make America Great Again!’ promises. The problem is, Trump has no programs. He only has hot buttons he pushes, but when it comes to spelling out an actual program and how any promise would be implemented and funded, he’s always the artful dodger. This creates an unstable class contradiction in his operation, one bound to surface as promises are unfulfilled.

What Does It All Mean?

With this brief descriptive and analytical mapping of the upper crust of American politics, many things begin to fall in place. The subaltern groupings in the GOP have risen in revolt against the losses imposed on them by the neoliberal Establishment of the Romneys and the Bushes. Ironically, this is ‘the chickens coming home to roost,’ since the GOP Establishment has encouraged and funded these ‘New Right’ alliances ever since Ronald Reagan’s and Richard Nixon’s ‘Southern Strategy’ and its appeal to the base of George Wallace. But they could never deliver the goods to rightwing workers. They were still, after all, workers, who saw themselves sinking or stagnating under the harsh neoliberalism of the right. Now, even though they have rebelled and flocked to a ‘Great Leader,’ one whose rule would deepen every crisis and conflict facing the country, they are social dynamite.

On the other hand, the Hillary Clinton candidacy, seeking a ‘continuation’ of the Obama administration, represents, at its core, an alliance between the ‘Third Way’ and the Keynesian Labor Liberals, while holding out an olive branch to the Rainbow Social Democrats as energetic but critical secondary ally. The Sanders campaign, and its allied groupings, the Progressive Democrats of America and the Working Families Party, are still likely to soldier on to the convention, doing as much grassroots organizing along the way as they can. They have few illusions about Clinton’s leftward shift, and are well aware that campaigning is one thing, while governing is another. So they continue to press all their issues and policies of a common front vs finance capital, war and the right, building more and more clout as they go.

This 'big picture’ also reveals much about the current budget debates, which are shown to be three-sided–the extreme austerity neoliberalism of all three parties under the GOP tent, , the 'austerity lite’ budget of the Third Way-dominated Senate Democrats, and the left Keynesian, progressive and social democratic 'Back to Work’ budget of the Rainbow Social Democrats and the Congressional Progressive Caucus. The 'Keynesian Labor Liberals’ remain caught in the middle, often holding decent programs as positions, but not willing to do much to fight for them, looking for safe ways ‘to go with the winner’ and accept ‘half a loaf.’

All this shows why and how Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders would likely be able to pull together a majority electoral coalition. But it also reveals why either of them might still be thwarted in pulling together an effective governing coalition in 2017, (assuming they are able to defeat Trump or Cruz). The far right has grown in strength and virulence, while the ‘regular’ conservative right has grown in intransigence. They still hold the House and the Senate, though this may change a bit in November, Congress will still be an obstacle to any Democrat in the White House.

The old Establishment, led by Kasich at this point, is likely to be out in the cold, unless they shift over to Hillary, which a few are already talking about. All the parties of the GOP right, especially the ones on top, need to be crushed in November 2016. Both Clinton and Sanders have strengths and weaknesses, but Sanders would likely be the stronger candidate, given the historic scandals and anti-worker policies of the Clintons. Trump has already warned that he will use every piece of mud he can find to sling in her direction.
Finally, there is the one major positive factor that was barely conceivable only two years ago: the dramatic youth insurgency behind the only socialist in Congress. No longer on the margins, Sanders has both widened the legitimacy of socialism and put anti-finance capital, antiwar and anti-fascist proposals at the center of the country’s political discussion, and to audiences of  tens of millions. It didn’t come from nowhere, but can be best seen as a re-emergent Occupy 4.0, following the original Occupy 1.0 explosion of protest against the Banksters, to Black Lives Matter and the Fight for 15 insurgencies (2.0), to the Climate Justice mobilizations (3.0). These are all elemental risings of the ‘precariat,’ the young and stressed out and underemployed and debt-ridden sector of the working class and the oppressed generally, as a critical force in society calling on the main force, ‘the 99%,’ to activate itself and enter the battleground.

In summary, here are a few things to keep in mind.  If you decide to intervene in electoral work to build independent working class grassroots organizations, you don’t go 'inside the Democratic Party’. There’s not much of an 'inside’ there anymore. Most of what is left are small groups of lawyers, fundraisers and media consultants clustered tightly around each incumbent. What you do instead is join or work with one of the two factions/'parties’ that are left of center under its tent. Your aim is to make either of these stronger, preferably Rainbow Social Democrats. Then to shift the overall balance of forces, your task is to defeat the Rightwing Populists, the Christian Nationalist Theocrats and the Establishment GOP while expanding the Congressional Progressive Caucus. But you want to do this in a way that builds your organizational clout and influence under the Democratic tent at the expense of the Third Way. Strategically, we want to build a growing force along the class and democratic fault lines under that tent until it is stretched to the ripping point. Even in the short run, the balance of forces need altering in favor of the left. At present, not a single piece of progressive legislation is going to get passed without a major shift in this direction, and requires growing a new counter-hegemonic bloc inside and outside of the Democratic tent, and at all levels of government.

We have to keep in mind, however, that 'shifting the balance of forces’ is mainly an indirect and somewhat ephemeral gain. It does 'open up space’, but for what? Progressive initiatives matter for sure, but much more is required strategically. We are interested in pushing the popular front capital to its limits, and within that effort, developing a 21st century socialist bloc. If that comes to scale in the context of a defeat of the right, the 'Democratic Tent’ is also likely to collapse and implode, given the sharper class contractions and other fault lines that lie within it, much as the Whigs did in the 19th Century. That demands an ability to regroup all the progressive forces there and on the outside into a new 'First Party’ alliance, one that also includes a militant minority of socialists, which will be able to contend for power.

An old classic formula summing up the strategic thinking of the united front is appropriate here: 'Unite and develop the progressive forces, win over the middle forces, isolate and divide the backward forces, then crush our adversaries one by one.’ In short, we have to have a policy and set of tactics for each one of these elements, as well as a strategy for dealing with them overall. Moreover, take note of warning from the futurist Alvin Toffler: 'If you don’t have a strategy, you’re part of someone else’s strategy.’ Then finally, as to tactics, ‘wage struggle on just grounds, to our advantage and with restraint.’

To conclude, we still need to start with a realistic view of ourselves as an organized socialist left. We are quite small as organizations, but now we can see we are swimming in a sea of millions open to socialism. What can we do now? In brief,  set up Jacobin / In These Times Reading Groups in your living rooms and unite socialists with them, join or start PDA or WFP chapters everywhere, use organizations and broad 'Third Reconstruction’ alliances and popular rainbow assemblies to build mass mobilizations and win elections, with both socialists and Rainbow progressives, starting at the base, focused on city and state governments, and expanding the Congressional Progressive Caucus. You rarely gain victories at the top that have not been won and consolidated earlier at the base. Most of all, in order to form broader and winning coalitions, you need organizations of your own to form coalitions and alliances WITH! Seize the time and Git ‘er done!

Carl Davidson is a national co-chair of the Committee of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, an activist with Progressive Democrats of America in Western PA’s 12th CD, and a member of Local 3657 of the United Steel Workers. The views expressed here are his own.
And here is the rest of it. Read more!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

‘The Half Has Never Been Told’ Comment Ten


REVOLUTION AND COUNTER-REVOLUTION. We are now at the end of our journey through the remarkable book on US slavery, ‘The Half Has Never Been Told,’ by Edward E. Baptist. The last chapter is entitled ‘The Corpse,’ again with a double meaning, referring to the dead African Americans who rose up to fight slavery as Union soldiers, and the death of the institution of slavery itself.

As Union armies penetrated deeper into the South, at every camp dozens, hundreds, or even thousands, of ‘contrabands’ appeared, African Americans who deserted slave plantations, mines and mills to join the Union ranks in whatever way they could. W.E.B. Dubois referred to these critical events as ‘the general strike of Black labor,’ and it took the heart out of the slave economy. Some 200,000 of these self-liberated slaves were eventually formally brought into the Union Army, any proved decisive in many battles. Perhaps as many or even more found other ways to assist, working as laborers for the army, or in labor camps that helped produce and supply provisions for the army.

One thing many slave couples did in the army camps was to ask to be married by Union officers, who had the power to make such unions official. It mattered to the former slaves in many ways, but one way was especially important to the widows of some 40,000 Black troops killed in battle. In meant they and their children could receive a surviving widow’s pension.

The 13th Amendment abolishing slavery passed in1864, before the end of the war. On hearing Lincoln speak about it, one John Wilkes Booth stated that this ‘means nigger citizenship, and now, by God, I’ll put him through.’ Within a few months, he did.

The surrender of the South meant a period of dual power existed in the former Confederacy. Black freedmen, many of them armed veterans, together with federal troops, allowed ‘Reconstruction’ governments to emerge, with many freed Blacks and free Blacks being elected to office in new state legislatures and the to US Congress. Many of the laws they passed, designed to meet the needs of the poor generally, were among the most progressive ever seen in the area. Radical Republicans floated the program of supplying every Black man with 40 acres, a mule, a rifle and the right to vote, breaking up old plantations. But it never was implemented. The old ruling classes in the South also organized, especially with the armed terror of the Ku Klux Klan. By 1876, federal troops were withdrawn, and Reconstruction overthrown by ‘Redeemers.’

At the point of a gun or a noose, Blacks were forced into ‘labor contracts,’ ‘sharecropping,’ and penal gangs little different from slavery. But that is a story for another book, ‘Slavery by Another Name’ by Douglas A. Blackmon, describing how this new re-enslavement lasted until 1945. In evaluating Lincoln’s assassination, Baptist makes an interesting point in his conclusion, that the 16th President was either the last casualty of the Civil War or the first casualty of other mass insurgencies for Civil Rights and Black freedom yet to come. But in the end, the most powerful dimension of this book is a simple one. It gives us an excellent and well-documented account of our own history, but one that takes a point of view as its centerpiece, the point of view of the enslaved and the exterminated that made our history even possible. It’s an awakening that won’t go away.

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Sunday, March 22, 2015

‘The Half Has Never Been Told’ Comment Nine


MANIFEST DESTINY'S DNA: SLAVERY, CONQUEST AND GENOCIDE. We are nearing the end of our journey through the remarkable book by Edward E. Baptist, 'The Half Has Never Been Told.' Chapter Nine, next to last, is titled 'Arms,' again with multiple meanings. The simplest one is the strong arms of Black slaves in building the South's railroads, for getting cotton to markets more efficiently.

But its also 'arms' as in the US military uses for expansion, successfully and unsuccessfully. Ethnic cleansing on Native peoples to secure land for new plantations was successful, as was the Mexican War, securing much of the Northern half of Mexico, were slavery had been abolished, for US enslavers.

It didn't stop there, however. There were numerous attempts to annex Cuba for slavery, plotted within the government rather openly. Then there were the entrepreneurial enslavers called 'filibusterers,' the original meaning of that term, who set out to take over nations south of the Rio Grande by armed coups. The most noted was William Walker, who tried to take over Nicaragua in 1956, and declared himself its president. Luckily, it failed and he was executed there. Our history often mentions 'Manifest Destiny' as a simple effort to extend the nation to the Pacific. But it rarely goes deeper into the reasons why, or the methods--expanding slavery and genocide.

Politically, things come to a head with two measures. First, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which allowed Missouri to keep slaves, but allowed Kansas's new government to decide the matter for a population largely opposed to slavery. Missouri pro-slavery thuggish gangs by the thousands invaded and hijacked the politics. But the abolitionists fought back, most notably under John Brown, responding to the killing of 'free soilers' with the execution of pro-enslavers. 'Bloody Kansas' was really the opening of the Civil War. Brown was later thwarted at Harper's Ferry in Virginia, but his hanging served as a clarion call for wider resistance.

The second measure was the infamous Dred Scott decision by the Taney Supreme Court, declaring that African Americans had 'no rights whites were bound to respect,' and practically speaking, required every citizen to assist in slave-catching of runaway slaves everywhere, or be fined and jailed.

These led to the shattering of the two existing parties, Whigs and Democrats. Southern Democrats became secessionists; Northern Democrats were sympathetic, but opposed secession. The Whigs split several ways, North and South and otherwise, imploding. Lincoln's Whig grouping joined with Free Soilers and Liberty Party Advocates, and a mass social youth movement called the 'Wide Awakes', to form what would be a new 'First Party,' opposed to slavery's expansion, but not yet for abolition directly. The Enslavers saw that in practice, however, it meant their doom, and with Lincoln's election, they seceded and launched the armed attack on Fort Sumter. More to come.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

‘The Half Has Never Been Told’ Comment Eight

 textile mill
Early textile mill with women workers
INDUSTRY ON THE BACKS OF SLAVES. Returning to our journey through the remarkable book, 'The Half Has Never Been Told,' we turned to Chapter Nine, entitled 'Backs.'
The author once again draws us to his main theme: the development of capitalism in the US is best understood as proceeding on the backs of slaves and the backs of ethnically cleansed Native peoples of the West. He challenges and undermines the more common story of capitalism developing with a self-contained free-labor North, while the South was a sluggish and disconnected backwater.
The industries that first expanded in the North were ship building to move cotton and slaves to market, iron and metal working to supply tools to the slave labor camps, and finally, textile mills to weave cotton into cloth here, rather than to have to supply the slaves and others with clothing imported from England.
The author gives two simple examples of a hoe and an axe, the metal part of them. Move 200,000 slaves to the Deep South and Southwest, and you have to put a tool in their hands. Where do the axe heads come from? From the rapid expansion of iron works in Connecticut. Likewise with the guns of the overseers and slave catchers, soon to be followed by iron steam engines, both for the textile mills and the new railroads to move cotton and other goods to markets more readily. All of this was mainly driven from the demands for tools come from the vast clearing and plowing of land for the cotton plantations. What was happening in the North was driven mainly from the South.
The growth of new industries to supply slavery was rapid. In 1850, 500,000 Americans labored in manufacturing. In ten years, it was 1.2 million. Immigrant labor poured in from Europe, 1.5 million in the 1840s alone.
But the author's argument is not undialectical. Once an industrial power arose in the North, it acquired its own 'sectional interests' that contended with slave capital. In the level of politics, this would be played out in the ongoing tug-of-war over whether new states and territories would be 'free' or 'slave.'
This began making waves with the 'Wilmot Proviso,' a measure attached to a bill concluding the Mexican War, by Pennsylvania Congressman David Wilmot, that none of the territories acquired in the war would be open to slavery, thus following in the earlier pattern of the Northwest Ordinance.
The measure was stymied, but the long debate over it factionalized the two major parties, the Whigs and the Democrats. The Whigs started with two factions, 'Cotton Whigs' and 'Conscience Whigs', and grew into more. The Democrats at first gathered into the 'Barnburners' of Martin Van Buren and the 'Hunkers,' siding with the slave Democrats in the South. These tensions would grow even greater and into more factions and parties in the period ahead. More to come. Read more!

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

‘The Half Has Never Been Told’ Comment Seven

TEXAS, BANKS AND SLAVERY. We continue through ‘The Half Has Never Been Told' with Chapter 8, entitled ‘Blood.’ It starts with the blood drawn on the backs of slaves by the ‘whipping machine,’ forcing ever higher productivity from slaves in the ‘Southwest,’ meaning the Mississippi region. A few slaves resisted the lash, but when one told his master he wouldn’t be whipped anymore, he got the answer, ‘if you can’t be whipped, I can still kill you.’ He could, without penalty, save for the price of replacing the slave. Some slaves ran off, and here ‘blood’ came to mean bloodhound, the dogs used to catch them. Of the hounds’ noise on the chase, said white enslavers, ‘the music they make was the sweetest in the world.’

But by 1836, slave productivity was causing a problem. It was outpacing, temporarily, the capacity for English textile mills to process and sell it. In a short time, the price of cotton dropped from 18 cents to six cents a pound, and the price of slaves tracked the price of cotton. To make a longer story short, a great number of Southwest enslavers suddenly couldn’t pay their debts, and many banks in the area also crashed. It was the crash of 1837. Slaves were put on the block at reduced prices in large numbers, which meant many slave families were broken up, tearing apart the ‘ties of blood’ among them to great sorrow and suffering.

One way for the enslavers to escape the bill collectors was to move into the Texas territory, where the law would not yet reach, but where they could still seize land and grow cotton. The practice was so common, bills were returned to creditors simply marked ‘GTT,’ widely understood as ‘Gone To Texas,’ but soon meant any efforts of any deadbeats to escape payment.

But therein lies the tale. Mexico had abolished slavery, but had a weak grip on its Northern States, including Texas. The enslavers in Congress wanted it, and so rigged up the ‘Republic of Texas’ backed by the enslavers’ money. Texas was brought into the union to thwart Mexico’s abolition and secure slavery’s expansion westward. Just set aside all the chauvinist mythology from the 1950s about Davy Crockett and the Alamo.

The abolitionist movement continued to grow, mainly among Northern church-based women. One tactic was signing petitions to Congress with huge numbers of names, to be printed in the Congressional Record. The enslavers in Congress would have none of it, and passed a ‘gag rule’ forbidding any mention or acceptance of these petitions as illegal. The abolitionists pointed out this thwarted the First Amendment, and that slavery thus not only stripped any rights from Blacks in the South, but was now also stripping rights from whites in the North. The dots were being connected. More to come. Read more!

Saturday, January 31, 2015

‘The Half Has Never Been Told’ Comment Six

sable-venus THE HALF HAS NEVER BEEN TOLD. The saga of this remarkable book continues. Chapter 7 is entitled ‘Seed’, again with multiple meanings. It starts with cotton seed itself and the constant quest for better varieties and new and better land to grow it, another way of showing slavery’s expansionist nature.

But we learn a new word, new at least to us, ‘potterized.’ It comes from Robert Potter, a young Southern white low on the social scale who owned no slaves, but was determined to climb the political ladder by running for office. The slave owners and the elites rigged the game against him, and he called one of them out for a duel. He was dismissed as too lowly for a duel, so, enraged, he assaulted and beat the man, cracking his skull. Put on trial, he made an unusual defense, that his attack was justified because he was treated like a Negro, and hence his assault was justified to defend his ‘manhood,’ another sense of ‘seed.’ One was a ‘man’ precisely because he couldn’t be treated or dismissed as a slave.

While he did a short term in prison, he returned to fight more battles, and his example spread to spur the ambitions of other whites low in status. They were becoming ‘potterized’ en masse. Andrew Jackson was savvy enough to tap into this mass resentment demanding ‘white equality.’ He based his campaigns on it and rode the wave to the White House, promoting universal suffrage for white males while, at the same time, stripping the ballot from free Blacks in states like New York. Combined with his Indian Removal Act, stealing native lands for cotton, the Jackson years represented the consolidation of a multiclass ‘white united front’ in electoral politics and white supremacy as the standard nationwide. Now a marco feature, it grew from the seed of ‘potterizing’ on the micro level.

‘Seed’ also is used in the sexual sense. While enslavers almost always raped their female slaves, it was now showing up in the marketplace. Some slave women were deemed ‘fancy,’ meaning sexually desirable, and were stripped naked on the block. One ad was put out for the ‘Sable Venus.’ There were even slave buyers ‘balls’, where slave purchasers could peruse a dance floor of Black women scantily clad in night clothes to make their picks and bids.

The chapter also introduces us to an old practice that sounds new. Enslavers often mortgaged their slaves to get cash to buy more. One institution in New Orleans, the Consolidated Association of the Planters of Louisiana, CAPL, would make the mortgages, securitize them, and sell them. To minimize risk, they had the legislature back up the paper, guaranteeing the taxpayers would insure it. These securities were then sold and resold as $500 bonds, roughly the average price of a slave at the time. Hence someone in the North or anywhere could hold the equivalent of the ownership of one slave per bond, and collect interest on it. Thus you could profit from slavery indirectly, and at a distance. Did a ‘bubble’ in these securities arise and burst? It certainly did, in the 1837 crash. But that’s a longer story. More to come.

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‘The Half Has Never Been Told’ Comment Five


WE CONTINUE our read through ‘THE HALF HAS NEVER BEEN TOLD,’ the illuminating story of slavery and capitalism. ‘Breath’ is the title of chapter six, and again has a double meaning. It begins as awakening, as in the growing consciousness of how the enslaved in developing their common language, came to understand themselves. One word, ‘Stole,’ came to sum it up, as in ‘we were stole from Africa,’ or ‘my Daddy was stole down to Georgia by the traders,’ or ‘I was stole from the auction block by a new master.’

The slaves had great clarity on the core theft that formed capitalism’s primitive accumulation. It was stolen, labor from black skins, land to put it to work from red skins, then the repeated stealing as both slaves and the product of their unpaid labor cycled over and over.

It posed a conflict in the thinking of the rest of the country, especially as it was swept by a new period of religious awakening, or ‘breath’ as the rise of spirit, as the spirit of the times. First was the religion of Nat Turner, who practiced an Old Testament-inspired sense of justice and wreaking vengeance by slaying one’s oppressors. The shock waves saw the rise of abolitionism first among the Quakers. Benjamin Lundy of Ohio started publishing ‘The Emancipator,’ moving it to Baltimore, where he was helped by a young assistant, William Lloyd Garrison. At the other extreme, the slave master first denied religion to Blacks, claiming ‘they had no souls.’ When that ploy quickly failed, they developed their own version of ‘Christianity’ that enforced slavery on every point, even as they made it a crime to teach slaves to read, lest they read the Bible for themselves. The vast waves of new Methodists and Baptists in the North were somewhere in between, trying to distance themselves from it all.

Meanwhile slavery surged onward, ever more cruel and more efficient. One small example. In the Southeast, at first slaves were sold on ‘exceptional days,’ such as the beginning of a new year, or at market fairs held at crossroads. But now, especially in the ‘Southwest,’ meaning Mississippi, they were sold every day and everywhere, as the sources of great wealth. More to come.

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‘The Half Has Never Been Told’ Comment Four


MORE ON SLAVERY AND CAPITALISM, continuing our journey through ‘The Half Has Never Been Told.’ Chapter 5 is titled ‘Tongues.’ And it begins with the fact of slave songs and their meaning. Often the enslaved on US soil couldn’t speak the same language—some spoke a French Creole from Haiti, others an English from the Chesapeake, still other the Gullah language of the Georgia coast, or other African tongues. The author here stresses the role of the work song in developing a common tongue, the African American dialect of English. But more than a common language, he shows the emergence of a common culture, one of resistance and the need to survive, to endure, under terrible odds.

The wider political context is the need for various ‘compromises,’ bringing new states into the Union in pairs--one slave, one free—to maintain a balance of power. The chief theoretician of slavery was John C. Calhoun, and one opponent at the top was John Quncy Adams. After one conversation with Calhoun in 1820, where the latter threatened civil war, Adams kept his mouth shut, but wrote the following in his diary:

“If the dissolution of the union should result from the slave question, it is obvious as anything…that it must be shortly afterward followed by the universal emancipation of the slaves.” For “slavery is the great and foul stain upon the North American Union… The Union might then be reorganized on the fundamental principle of emancipation. The object is vast in its compass, awful in its prospects, sublime and beautiful in its issue. A life devoted to it would be nobly spent or sacrificed.”

Adams clearly saw through a window into the future, and it serves to show the clarity both sides saw on the importance of the stakes.

The author returns to the activities of the slaves themselves, describing Saturday night corn husking competitions as entertainment, and circle dances after one or another had won, and the new music that arose. As opposed to the music of those not enslaved, which was conservative, trying to keep to the patterns of old Europe, the emerging slave cultural was dynamic and modern. Among free Blacks, it traveled to urban centers like New York City, where it was performed, even copied by ’whites’ in ‘Blackface,’ in poor and gross imitations of the real thing. The ‘tongues’ were giving the world a new music, a gift that keeps on giving, even to this day. More to come.

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‘The Half Has Never Been Told’ Comment Three


IF EVERY AFRICAN AMERICAN, OR EVEN EVERY WORKER, READ THIS BOOK, CAPITALISM WOULD BE SHAKEN TO THE CORE. Continuing my progress through ‘The Half has Never Been Told,’ I’m taken by new revelations exposing ever new layers of lies and distortion we’ve been taught about our history and our economy—and I’m one who is somewhat literate in both. Just consider that most everything you think you know about slavery is a lie. You won’t be far off.

Chapters three and four take the name ‘Hands,’ Right Hands for 3, Left Hands for 4. The author uses these metaphors to make deep points with double meanings.

Think of ‘right hand’ as a seat of power, as in ‘the right hand of God.’ Then think of hands writing bills of sale or letters of credit, or even ‘writs of hand,’ a kind of commercial paper. All these were used in moving living human flesh along the classic cycle of capitalism, M-C-M’, money to capital to greater money. The author dramatically situates this activity in Maspero’s Coffee House and Slave Market in New Orleans, and shows how it came to rival New York and London as a center of growing capitalism rooted in ‘slave labor camps,’ a term he often uses over the softer ‘plantation.’ While they are on Maspero’s auction block, the qualities of a slave might be embellished—a good blacksmith, a good carpenter, but when the bills of sale are written, the are just so many ‘hands’ for the field.

The ‘Left Hand’ of chapter four is more revealing, since most humans, including slaves, are right handed. This chapter exposes many lies, first and foremost that slavery was unproductive compared to free labor. In fact, it was very productive, and wage labor that picked cotton could never match slave labor. Why? Because slave labor was driven by torture. A slave in the Deep South region had a poundage of cotton to pick every day. They were whipped with flesh-tearing bullwhips when they didn’t meet it. (The crack of the whip is the origin of the term, ‘cracker’, by the way.) If a slave met the number, it was then raised higher. So slaves had to force themselves to pick faster, using both hands independently, as in playing the piano, so their left hand became as dexterous as their right, and both became so fast they moved in a blur. It was called the ‘push system.’ Some overseers, tiring of swinging the lash, even invented ‘whipping machines’ they could pedal with less effort and to torture more slaves at the end of every day. This process was used on over one million human beings over many decades, producing enormous profits, making Southern enslavers among the richest people in the world, and driving the growth of the industrial revolution everywhere. Slavery resides in the very inner soul of capitalism. More to come.

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    '’The Half Has Never Been Told’ Comment One


    STARTING OUR JOURNEY THOUGH AN IMPORTANT BOOK. The first chapter of ‘The Half Has Never Been Told’ is titled ‘Feet’ and covers the period between 1783 and 1810. The reason soon becomes clear. In macro terms, the trade and movement of slaves is shifting from slaves brought from Africa to the selling and transport of ‘surplus’ slaves raised on breeder farms in Virgina and the Carolinas. They were transported South and West largely on foot, in slave ‘coffels,’ groups of slaves anywhere from a few dozen to a few hundred, with the men bound together in heavy chains, with women bound in ropes walking behind. A few ‘white’ slave drivers rode on horses, making frequent use of the lash and swallows of whiskey to keep the line moving and less aware of pain. ‘Coffel,’ by the way, is a term added by slaves themselves, borrowing from the Arabic for a caravan including slaves.

    The key point Edward Baptist wants to make in this chapter is that even in this period, groups of the upper classes were making money from slavery, even if they never owned a single slave. Myriad land speculation schemes prevailed, with the prices rising as the land was made profitable by and for slave labor, and the commercial paper for these sales became bonds, traded and sold in New York and New England, with immense profits going into the family coffers of many of the Founding Fathers and their friends. The slave economy and the commercial economy were linked like breathing in and breathing out.

    Two side stories. Not all whites liked slavery, As the ‘coffels’ came into Western PA near what is now Pittsburgh, a ‘white’ group called ‘The Negro Club’ would lure flatboats laden with slaves to the shore with a promise of rum. They would them attack the overseers and free the Blacks to take off into the woods.

    The other tells about Abraham Lincoln, the president’s grandfather, killed by a Native American, who was in turn shot by the president’s uncle. The son Thomas tried to keep the farm going in Kentucky, but kept being cheated by enslavers and their land agents. He then took his wife and young son, Abraham, away from Kentucky and north of the Ohio. The two incidents surely had a conflicted impact of the thinking of young Abe. More to come…

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    ‘The Half Has Never Been Told’’ Comment Two


      DOUBLE MEANINGS. Chapter two of ‘The Half Has Never Been Told’ is titled ‘Heads’ It has a double meaning. The first is ‘heads’ as in heads of cattle, and the last-ditch efforts to import as many ‘heads’ of the enslaved as possible before the provision on the US Constitution banning the overseas trade in slaves took effect. (It wasn’t always observed.)

      The second meaning emerges at the end of the chapter, and refers to the beheading of slaves who had revolted in what is now Louisiana, and putting those severed heads on pikes staked along the roadways and slave plantations as warnings to others with a mind to rebel.

      In between is a story of the geopolitics of slavery in a time of Napoleon and the war of 1812. One part you probably never considered before is the motive force behind the Louisiana Purchase, which doubled the size of the US. Spain, Britain, France and the US all contended for it, but what finally cinched the deal was the impact of the slave revolution in what is now Haiti. Former slaves in power weakened the will of the European powers, and it became a hot potato. Jefferson bought it for a song, with the idea that much of it would make room for the internal expansion of slavery to the Southwest. We all learned about the ‘Northwest Ordinance’ that forbade the expansion of slavery into the ‘Northwest Territories, from Ohio to Minnesota. But there was also a ‘Southwest Ordinance,’ the same in every way, but without any ban on slavery.

      Haiti had an impact of the enslaved as well. (One point to like about this book is the frequent use of the active voice. Slave owners are called ‘enslavers’ and slaves, the ‘enslaved.’ This is not dry, dusty history.) The chapter tells the remarkable story of the ‘German Coast Uprising’ led by Charles Deslondes. He was brought to the ‘Orleans Territory’ by his master, along with thousands of others fleeing the Haitian Revolution. He brought the ideas of revolt with him, and led several hundred slaves in a revolt against plantations along the Mississippi. The second meaning of ‘heads’ comes from the suppression of this revolt.

      Another you’ll learn about is the ‘Red Stick War’ and how the suppression of Native Americans was directed linked to the securing of this territory for the enslavers. It was a war against the Muscogee, inspired by Tecumseh, but won by Andrew Jackson, who then turned his forces to New Orleans, finally driving out the Brits. The way was then clear for the vast expansion of the economic force that fueled the growth of capitalism here and around the world. More to come.

      Read more!

      Sunday, December 21, 2014

      Agencies of Social Change Often Wear a Clerical Collar

      Faith making a difference in Aliquippa

      Resurrecting Aliquippa: Faith

      Kevin Lorenzi/The Times: Chris Ingram speaks to a church gathering at a "Black Lives Matter" service Dec. 14 at New Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Aliquippa.

      By Tom Davidson

      Beaver County Times |

      ALIQUIPPA — Beyond the facts and figures in the sheaf of 150 pages that is the city's Act 47 recovery plan are the people who live and do business here.

      They've endured decades of economic downturns and slow decay since the industrial lifeblood of the community — Jones & Laughlin Steel and its successors — left with the collapse of the steel industry in the 1980s.

      But the city's people have leaned on another institution, one that many say is even tougher than steel: their churches and what springs forth within them, namely their faith. Despite the city's financial woes, it has a strong spiritual foundation, and scores of people of all faiths are working to help the city resurrect itself.

      "We see united ... clergy like we've never seen before" crossing congregational and racial boundaries to unite for the city's common good, said Rich Liptak, pastor of Wildwood Chapel in Hopewell Township, just across the border from Aliquippa.

      "There's genuine love and care for each other. It's been great," he said.

      More than 300 people attended a September service billed as Aliquippa Celebrates Faith, and for five years, each Saturday morning, a group of clergy has gathered to pray at various places in the city, Liptak said. He remembers times when there would be a shooting or stabbing on a Friday night, and the next morning they'd gather to pray near the scene of the crime.

      But in the five years, the Saturday group has prayed in every neighborhood of the city, and it's made a difference. After a stretch of more than a decade where there was at least one homicide each year in Aliquippa, the city saw a 16-month stretch in 2012 and 2013 without a murder, Liptak said.

      "We see answer to prayer," he said.

      He himself been a witness to the demise of the mills and the jobs they provided. His father, uncle and grandfather were all steelworkers. "It's been a slow spiral downward" is how he puts it.

      Liptak has listened to people longing for the mills to come back since they were shuttered. But the mills haven't come back, and for 30 years, the city has been stuck in the state's Act 47 program for financially distressed communities. The city's latest recovery plan was approved earlier this year, and city officials are working to exit the program and foster a renaissance in town.

      "I think we're poised for improvement," Liptak said. He serves as president of the Greater Aliquippa Ministerial Association, a vibrant group of pastors who work together to make a difference in Aliquippa.

      Making an impact

      There are also groups including Aliquippa Impact that work to help youth.

      Steve Rossi, executive director of Aliquippa Impact, said its main aim is to "foster tangible hope to youth" in the city.

      "It's not just spiritual in nature; it's practical," Rossi said.

      Aliquippa Impact has an after-school program at Linmar Terrace, a one-on-one mentoring program, a city camp, arts education and several summer programs for youth in the city. They try to teach kids what they can do themselves to ensure they have a bright future, Rossi said.

      "A lot of it is common-sense stuff," he said. "We want you (the youth they serve) to own it."

      The youth in the city are full of potential, he said, and they try to teach kids that they have the answers to the problems they face.

      Many of the people involved with Aliquippa Impact, including Rossi, aren't Aliquippa natives. They came to serve and not to "fix Aliquippa," he said, but to help the people there "fix themselves."

      "It is a long-haul ministry," he said, with the long-term goal being that the kids served now will one day be a part of the ministry's leadership.

      A big part of it is "just showing up" to be there for the kids. "We can go so far through love," Rossi said. "It brings hope to families."

      Offering coffee — and hope

      Another group that's active in Aliquippa is Uncommon Grounds, a coffee shop and ministry program based on Franklin Avenue downtown that was founded in 2005 by Church Army evangelist John Stanley, an Australian who has since returned to his native land.

      The ministry lives on, thanks to Herb Bailey, whose first impression of Aliquippa differed from the persistent negative perceptions of the city that are common in Beaver County.

      Read more!

      Friday, May 09, 2014

      Jackson Rising: An Electoral Battle Unleashes a Merger of Black Power, the Solidarity Economy and Wider Democracy

      Photo: Closing session of Jackson Rising

      By Carl Davidson

      Jackson,MS - Nearly 500 people turned out over the May 2-4, 2014 weekend for the ‘Jackson Rising’ conference in Jackson, Mississippi. It was a highly successful and intensive exploration of Black power, the solidarity economy and the possibilities unleashed for democratic change when radicals win urban elections.

      The gathering drew urban workers and rural farmers, youth and the elderly, students and teachers, men and women. At least half were people of color. About 50 were from the city of Jackson itself, and most were from other Southern states. But a good deal came from across the country, from New York to the Bay area, and a few from other countries—Quebec, South Africa, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

      The major sponsors included Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, Praxis Project, Southern Grassroots Economies Project, US Solidarity Economy Network, and the US Social Forum. Funding came from Community Aid and Development, Inc., Mississippi Association of Cooperatives, Coalition for a Prosperous Mississippi, Fund for Democratic Communities, Ford Foundation, Wallace Action Fund, Surdna Foundation, and the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation.

      But to grasp the meaning and significance of this meeting, a step back to see how it began—and why it almost didn’t happen—is required.

      The conference was the brainchild of Jackson’s late Mayor Chokwe Lumumba and one group of his close supporters, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) soon after he was elected on June 4, 2013 and had placed his people in a few key city positions. They had initiated the conference, which was then endorsed by the city council, to help shape and economic development plan for the city and the outlying Black majority rural areas, known as the ‘Kush.’--hence the name of the overall project, the ‘Jackson-Kush Plan.’

      Chokwe Lumumba was rooted in the Black revolutionary organization, the Republic of New Afrika (RNA), which claimed the Black majority areas of several states in the Deep South. He was one of its leading members, and a widely respected civil rights attorney. The RNA also had an economic outlook, a form of cooperative economics through the building of ‘New Communities’—named after the concept of ‘Ujamaa’, a Swahili word for ‘extended family,’ promoted by former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere. The new mayor connected this core idea with the long-standing role of cooperatives in African American history, the experience of the Mondragon coops in Spain, and the solidarity economy movement that had emerged and spread from the Third World in recent decades. Together, all these ideas merged in the mayor’s project, ‘Cooperation Jackson.’

      Lumumba’s election had taken Jackson’s political elite off guard. Making use of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to run as an independent in the Democratic primary, he defeated the incumbent and forced a runoff. Given that Jackson is an 80% Black city, he then won overwhelmingly. So when he died suddenly of heart failure Feb 25, 2014, with his supporters in a state of shock, his opposition moved quickly to counterattack. The MXGM, the Peoples Assembly and other pro-Chokwe groups now had two tasks, trying to get Chokwe’s son, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, elected mayor while continuing to plan the conference, but with city support on hold.

      Lumumba, 31 years old, lost to Tony Yarber, 46% to 54%. Chokwe Antar received over 65% of the Black vote, but the turnout had dropped. The Yarber team immediately moved to fire all the Choke sympathizers from city government, and tried to sabotage the conference. Local rightwing web publications attacked it as “thinly veiled communism.”

      A Tale of Two Cities

      What is behind this antagonism? Jackson is indeed a tale of two cities, on the cusp of two competing visions. Given its demographics, any mayor is likely to be Black, but what that can mean is another matter. Just driving around the city gives you a quick glimpse of the problem. While the largest city in the state and the Capitol, replete with major government buildings, the city is eerily quiet and empty. There are a few upscale areas, but also large areas of older, wood-framed housing of the unemployed and the working poor. There are huge fairgrounds, but little in the way of basic industry.

      So two paths emerged. One was neoliberal, and aimed at exporting as much of the Black poor as possible, in order to open up wider areas from gentrification attracting the better-paid servants of the businesses that served government. The other was progressive, the Jackson Cooperation plan, which aimed at growing new worker-owned businesses and new housing coops that worked in tandem with the Black farmers of the ‘Kush.’ It also stressed democratized city services, while creating new alternative energy and recycling startups and also taking advantage of the city’s position as a major regional transport hub. It’s a conflict not unique to Jackson and shared by many cities around the country. Here’s the four points summing up ‘Cooperation Jackson’:

      • Cooperation Jackson is establishing an educational arm to spread the word in their communities about the distinct advantages and exciting possibilities of mutual uplift that business cooperatives offer.
      • When Mayor Chokwe Lumumba was still in office, Cooperation Jackson planned to establish a “cooperative incubator.” providing a range of startup services for cooperative enterprises. Absent support from the mayor’s office, some MXGM activists observed, a lot of these coops will have to be born and nurtured in the cold.
      • Cooperation Jackson aims to form a local federation of cooperatives to share information and resources and to ensure that the cooperatives follow democratic principles of self-management that empower their workers. We’ve always said “free the land,” observed one MXGM activist. Now we want to “free the labor” as well.
      • Finally Cooperation Jackson intends to establish a financial institution to assist in providing credit and capital to cooperatives.

      The conference project thus found itself in the eye of a storm. But with luck and some judicious tactics, one key figure, Jackson State University President Carolyn Meyers, decided to stick with MXGM and allowed the conference to continue its plans on her campus, using the huge Walter Patton Center and two classroom buildings. A last minute fundraising blitz pulled in enough resources to squeeze through and make it happen.

      Opening plenary: John Zippert, Jessica Gordon Nembhard, Ed Whitfield, Kali Akuno

      When the hundreds of registered participants poured into the huge hall Friday evening and saw it filling up, one could sense the excitement and rising spirit of solidarity amidst diversity. The opening plenary keynote speakers included Jessica Gordon Nembhard of the US Solidarity Economy Network (SEN), Wendell Paris of the Federation of Southern Coops (FSC) Land Assistance fund, Cornelius Blanding, Special Projects Director of the FSC, Ed Whitfield of the Southern Grassroots Economies Project based in North Carolina, and Kali Akuno of Jackson’s MXGM.

      Gordon-Nembhard started off. A professor at John Jay College in New York, she recently published Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice, a groundbreaking study on the topic.

      “Courage is a word I had to use,’ she explained. ‘Everywhere I turned, from the early efforts of free Blacks to buy others in their family out of slavery, to the Underground Railroad, to burial societies and other clandestine forms of mutual aid; it took courage to motivate all these cooperative forms of resistance to slavery and white supremacy, from the beginning down to our own times.”

      She gave the example of Fannie Lou Hamer in the battles in Mississippi in the 1960s, well known as a founder of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. “But do we know her as a coop member, a group that sustained her when she was denied an income. As Ms. Hamer put it, ‘Until we control our own food, land, and housing, we can't be truly empowered.’”

      Wendell Paris who, as a young SNCC worker mentored by Ms. Hamer, continued the theme: “Land is the basis for revolution and it is important for us to hold on to our land base." He described the workings of the Panola Land Buyers Association in Sumpter County Alabama. “Freedom isn’t free. In the training to run coops successfully, you learn more than growing cucumbers. You learn organizing and administration, the training ground for taking political offices.”

      At different times during introductions, or even in the remarks of speakers, the chant, ‘Free the Land!’ would rise from the participants, accompanied by raised fists. This came from the RNA tradition, referring to an older battle cry of self-determination for the Black areas of the Deep South. It clearly still had resonance, and was often followed with ‘By Any Means Necessary!’

      The opening session was closed out by comments from Ed Whitfield and Kali Akuno. “All successful enterprises produce a surplus,” said Whitefield, "and our empowerment runs through retaking the surplus we have created, and putting it to uses that best serve us. We're not here making excuses. We're here making history. As long as we accept the current economic structures and approaches to development that flow from those structures and paradigms, we can’t get out of bondage.”


      "It's an uphill climb here in Mississippi,” added Akuno. “The Republican Tea Party government we have on a state level is not in favor at all of what we're trying to push through cooperative development. There was a bill supporting cooperatives that they killed earlier this year. On a municipal level, we are looking to transform all of the procurement policies of the city, all of the environmental regulations and standard policies within the city, and particularly all of the land-use policies in the city, that will support cooperatives. On the more practical side, we are launching a new organization from this conference called Cooperation Jackson, and it is going to be the vehicle by which all of the follow-through is going to be carried out.”

      But the municipal battle, Akuno concluded, would be difficult, given the neoliberal, repressive and pro-gentrification policies of the new team in charge.

      All the items presented by the opening speakers expressed the common theme of the conference organizers—Political power in the hands of the Black masses and their allies, then anchoring and using that power to shape and grow a cooperative economic democracy that would serve the vast majority. It was both a tribute to Chokwe Lumumba and an expression of his vision. Winning it, however, would not come easy.

      The next day, Saturday, was a different story. Here space was opened up for more than 30 diverse workshops, spread out over three time slots, with two more plenary sessions. Topics included the influence of Mondragon, community land trusts, Black workers and the AFL-CIO, the communes in Venezuela, mapping the solidarity economy, coops on a global scale, waste management and recycling, working with legislatures, and many more. No one report can cover them all, but here’s the flavor of a few.

      Mondragon and the Union Coop Model.

      What were the nuts and bolts of Spain’s Mondragon Coops (MCC), and how could unions serve as allies in creating similar enterprises in the U.S.? This was the question posed at an excellent workshop with three presenters: Michael Peck, the U.S. representative of Mondragon; Kristen Barker of the Cincinnati Union Coop Initiative; and Dennis Olson, of the United Food and Commercial Workers.

      Peck began with a brief overview of MCC and its 120 coops and their accomplishments. The key point: In MCC, workers own their labor, but rent their capital, rather than the other way around. “But sometimes," he noted, "you can tell more about something by look at one of its failures than all its successes."

      He was referring to the fact that a major MCC coop, FAGOR, which made kitchen appliances, recently closed down. “The housing market in Spain and Europe collapsed, and without new homes, new appliance sales sink Plus there was tough price competition from Asia.” MCC had carried FAGOR for several years, but could no longer justify it. Despite anger, “the vote of the workers to close it was unanimous.” In the regular world, the workers would get their pink slips, and be on the street.

      But Mondragon was different. “MCC first set up a solidarity fund with every worker donating 1.5% of their salary, adding up to some 15 million Euros,” he explained. “This was to cushion the transition. Then it worked to reassign all the FAGOR workers to other coops, which it has now accomplished for the large majority.” Peck added that Mondragon would continued creating new coops both in Spain and around the world, and the true test was not that some would eventually close, which was natural, but what happened when they did.

      Kristen Barker, right, at Our Harvest Coop

      Kristen Barker then gave the workshop an enthusiastic account of how a small group in Cincinnati, armed with only a few good ideas, had over four years moved to a point where three substantial coops were opening in the city and several more were in the works.

      “We were really inspired when we heard of the agreement between Mondragon and the United Steelworkers,” said Barker. “Our effort also stands on the shoulders of the Evergreen Coops in Cleveland. To date, Evergreen has launched three co-ops, Evergreen Laundry, Ohio Cooperative Solar that offers energy retrofits and solar panel installation, and Green City Growers that grows high end lettuce for hotels and restaurants in Cleveland. They have dozens of potential cooperatives in the pipeline. We are partnering with the major players of this initiative including the Ohio Employee Ownership Center for our unique project."

      The first three coops in Cincinnati, Barker added, were Sustainergy, a building trades coop to retrofit buildings to better environmental standards; the Cincinnati Railway Manufacturing Cooperative, which will make undercarriages for rail cars, and partnered with both the United Steel Workers and the local NAACP; and Our Harvest, a food hub coop which starts with local farms and takes their produce to a central site for packaging and marketing. It’s partnered with the UFCW union and other agricultural groups. Dennis Olson explained how the UFCW was particular helpful in connecting growers through the distribution centers to the unionized grocery chains, as opposed to Wal-Mart.

      “We only had a small study group to start—some community organizers, some Catholic nuns, a few union people,” concluded Barker. “But we did a lot of research, made partners and got the word out in the media. Soon we had more people calling with more ideas, like coop grocery stores in ‘food desert’ areas, jewelry makers’ coops and so on. We started getting some interest from the city, and now things are taking off.”

      Starting Coops in Jackson and the ‘Kush’

      This session was chaired by John Zippert of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives. He started with an excellent short summary of ‘Cooperatives 101,’ but quickly turned to drawing out the workshop participants on their concerns. Most were Black women from Jackson—one was interested in whether an African hair care products and services was possible; another wanted to start a coop of home health care workers. One man from Memphis said he had a small business distributing African products to small Black stores in the surrounding states, but he was getting on in years. How could he turn it into a coop that would live after him? Everyone shared ideas and legal options

      As the session ended, I ran into Ben Burkett, a Black farmer locally active the Indian Springs Farmers Association, part of the ‘Kush.’ I knew he was also president of the National Family Farm Coalition, but asked him more about his local operation.

      “Well, I don’t do cotton anymore, not much cotton in Mississippi these days,” he explained. ‘I do many vegetables, and sweet potatoes are a good crop. But it’s one thing for a farmer to grow and dig sweet potatoes. It’s quite another to have the equipment to scrub them, cut them into French fires, and then bag and store them, while getting them quickly to your markets. That’s where the value of the coop comes in. We can pool our resources for these things, and it makes a big difference. We’d be in bad shape without the coop.”

      Waste Management, Recycling and City Politics

      The politicss of garbage was the main topic here. Chaired by Kali Akuno, this workshop gave the most insight into what was going on in Jackson as a new and backward regime was replacing that of Chokwe Lumumba. “Waste Management serves the city poorly,” said Akuno. “It often ignores our neighborhoods. It does no recycling; it dumps the waste in a landfill in a small city to the North of here, gives them a payment, and that’s the end of it.”

      Akuno explained they had a different plan. Since a large part of the city budgets deal with services like these, they wanted to break them into smaller pieces so local contractors or coops could bid on them, then recycle the waste into a revenue stream. In addition to helping the environment and employment, it would keep the money circulating locally.

      “Another piece was setting up an incubator to foster the development of cooperatives,” Akuno added. “The government can’t run the co-ops. It won’t build them, but it can set the table. For most of the past 20 years, even though there has been a succession of black mayors, 90-95 percent of contracts to people who don’t live in Jackson. It was all about hiring people in Jackson.”

      “Now everything is going to be a fight,’ he added. “Even if your plan is reasonable and sustainable, it won’t matter if it’s stepping on the wrong toes.”

      Saturday also included two mealtime plenary sessions, one, at lunch, featuring the diverse organizations taking part, and the other, at dinner, giving everything an international dimension.

      The lunch plenary included Omar Freilla of Green Workers Cooperatives, Steve Dubb of the Democracy Collaborative, Michael Peck of Mondragon USA, Ricky Maclin of New Era Windows, and Saladin Muhhamad of Black Workers for Justice and MaryBe McMillian, Secretary Treasurer of the North Carolina AFL-CIO.

      “Community cooperatives,” said Steve Dubb, “can be considered part of a long civil rights movement that fights for both racial and economic justice. For example, Dr. Martin Luther King in the last year of his life helped launch the Poor People’s Campaign for an Economic Bill of Rights. The return of cooperatives to the movement, as illustrated by what’s happening here, is a welcome development.”

      MaryBe McMillian stressed the importance both of labor and the concentration of forces in the South. “Why organize in the South? Because what happens in the South affects the entire nation." Speaking for Black workers, Saladin Mummamad added, ‘We need power not just democracy; we need power that shapes what democracy looks like. When plants shut down workers, should seize control and turn them into cooperatives.”

      The evening session started with a tribute to Chokwe Lumumba by his son, Chokwe Antar Lumumba. “We are victorious because we struggle. I'm not afraid of the term revolutionary. We need to be as revolutionary as the times require. Free the land! The struggle my father started is not over, but only beginning. It continues, by any means necessary.”

      Also featured were Francoise Vermetter of Chantier in Quebec, Pierre LaLiberte on the International Labor Organization in Switzerland, Mazibuko Jara of AMandela! Magazine in south Africa, Elbart Vingwe, Organization of Collective Cooperative in Zimbabwe, Omar Sierra, Deputy Counsel General of Venezuela-Boston, and Janvieve Williams-Comrie, Green Worker Coops in the U.S.

      "Freeing the land has given our people a new sense of belonging," said Omar Sierra, of Venezuela. “Chokwe Lumumba extended his solidarity to us in a time of need. Our people are saddened by his passing, and will not forget him.”

      William Copeland, a cultural organizer from Detroit. Summed up the spirit of the crowd: “These presentations demonstrate the international significance of the Black Liberation Movement and Southern movement building.”

      On Sunday morning, those who hadn’t had to leave early for the airport, gathered in a large session of the whole that closed out the weekend. One after another, people stood up and testified to how their consciousness had been altered by their discussions and new experiences over the weekend. Emily Kawano of the Solidarity Economy Network made the point of understanding that the projects ahead, while including coops also reached beyond them to other forms, such as participatory budgeting, public banks and alternative currencies. Finally, at an auspicious moment, an African American women rose and in a strong church choir voice, began singing an old civil rights anthem, “Organize, organize, organize!” Everyone was on their feet, hands clapping, fists raised, and interspersing ‘Free the Land! with the chorus. It couldn’t have had a better closing moment.

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      Thursday, April 17, 2014

      James Dean and the Birth of Modern Masculinity

      James Dean. Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesA life mesmerizingly truncated, James Dean left behind only three films, and the gaping absence of the career that might have been.

      Even though he only made three films, James Dean introduced Hollywood to a new kind of man: Photo above: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

      by India Ross

      New Statesman

      17 April, 2014 - In Rebel Without A Cause, from 1955, a 24-year old James Dean, red-jacketed and tight-jeaned, climbs behind the wheel of an old black Mercury. To his right, the opponent he will race to the edge of a cliff hangs out of his driver-side window for a last slug of bravado: “Hey Toreador!”, he jeers. “First man who jumps is a chicken.” Re-inserting a trademark cigarette, Dean flicks on his headlights and hits the gas, and the two cars accelerate towards the brink. Frames from the edge, Dean glances right, grabs for the door and rolls out onto the turf. His adversary, jacket sleeve caught on his door handle and jammed into his driver’s seat, slips wrenchingly over the edge with his car.

      Less than a year later, the real life James Dean, whose legacy is the subject of an upcoming retrospective at the BFI, was to die in an echoing event, flipping a race-car on a bend on a California highway. A life mesmerisingly truncated, he left behind only three films, and the gaping absence of the career that might have been. It was a sequence of events morbidly inkeeping with the themes of doomed youth his characters embodied.

      The word “iconic” is tossed around ad nauseum, but if ever it were to apply, in the sense of an individual and a star whose off-screen persona outshines the sum of their roles, who bends the fabric of the society in which they live, Dean would surely qualify. In life, and even more so in death, the bee-stung darling of early Technicolor has held the awe of the movie-going public.

      But facial anatomy and excellent hair were not the traits for which Dean was influential. Hollywood does not suffer a shortage of cheekbones. He slotted into a blurry interlude following the second world war but before the flowering of the Beat movement, in which the role of a man in society was under sudden and unsuspected dispute. A generation primed for combat found itself at a loss of purpose, and gender roles that were without meaning overnight began to merge and reconfigure themselves.


      Dean was a new kind of man. His characters cried and struggled and screamed in frustration at the blurry world they had to live in. They were awkward and uncertain, grappling with sexuality and the disappointment in older men around them. “What can you do when you have to be a man?”, screams Jim, the tortured hero of Rebel Without A Cause, at his impotent father.

      The cut of the male star was formerly more robust: Charlton Heston, Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable – these were men’s men, manoeuvring from the Alexandrian chariot to the Western Front with a raised eyebrow in place. But the type of machismo with which Hollywood used to cash cheques, which slipped so easily into the rhythm of day-saving and woman-placating, is now all but redundant. George Clooney is perhaps the only contemporary relic of that 1940s flavour of heterosexuality. With a Cary Grant jawline and non-threatening cool, Clooney lingers as a housewives’ favourite, occasionally modernising his brand with political activism and dips into independent pictures. He banks on a nostalgia for the screen heroes that preceded him.

      But the successors to James Dean are in evidence everywhere. From the contemplative Ryan Gosling to the part-time poet James Franco, the Emotional Man is now a marketable asset. Matthew McConaughey, 2014’s case in point, has lived an entire spectrum of masculinity, latterly dropping frat-boy kilos to become a thoughtful shadow of himself – a feminised brand that has been remunerated well beyond his Oscar.

      In Hollywood today, a “male icon” is a contradiction in terms. Where fame has become all but genderless, a new batch of androgynous stars has fumbled its way to the surface. From Michael Cera to Jesse Eisenberg, the cinema is synonymous with a group of loping, hobbit-haired boys so divorced from masculinity that their characters actively mock the idea of sexual power. A swelling interest in superheroes, as an object of ironic admiration by the tech generation, is not coincidental, as fanboys reflect on a lost type of man, so distant from themselves.

      James Dean opened a door for the re-imagining of the male star. An awkward icon, he gave early shape to a model that would take decades to take hold. A man not just uncomfortable in himself but in the very idea of what a man represents, alongside Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash he broke a cycle of sexual dogma, laying the tracks for a half-century of flexible, sensitive masculinity. From the Beatles to The Graduate, The Smiths to Superbad, another type of man entirely was to dominate a soft, new horizon.

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      Tuesday, April 08, 2014

      ‘Lost Writings of SDS’ Reviewed…

      Revolutionary Youth & the New Working Class: The Praxis Papers, the Port Authority Statement, the RYM Documents and Other Lost Writings of SDS (Carl Davidson, Editor, Pittsburgh: Changemaker Publications, 2011)


      By George Fish

      Socialism and Democracy

      Revolutionary Youth & the New Working Class is an important collection of documents from a crucial period, 1967-1970, in the history of SDS [Students for a Democratic Society]. It is of both historical and present political interest. Carl Davidson, himself an old SDSer who has remained politically active on the left up to the present, is to be congratulated for his perspicacity in compiling it. As he notes in his Foreword, only one of the reprinted documents – the original manifesto of what went on to become Weatherman, “You Don’t Need a Weatherman to Know Which Way the Wind Blows” – is readily available; he collected the others in order, as he says, “to keep an important piece of the history of the 1960s New Left from going down the memory hole.” His instinct at preservation is unerring: the collection will become an essential reference. Although the analyses presented in these documents are of uneven quality, they all have some usefulness. That holds for even the least of them, Noel Ignatin’s “Without a Science of Navigation We Cannot Sail the Stormy Seas,” which is an able discussion despite its overall stilted and dogmatic 1930s Communist Party USA approach (Ignatin is a former CPUSAer who became a Maoist, so he is at least being “true to his heritage”).

      It is important to remember that these documents were written 42-45 years ago, during a time of capitalist prosperity. So it is not surprising that some of the politics and analyses will seem remote from present-day concerns. On the whole, though, the analyses hold up much better than might be expected. Other changes since they were written include: the decline of US power and influence first brought about by the defeat in Vietnam, and continuing with the economic ascendancy of China and the openly left electoral victories in Latin America; the decline of the “affluent worker” in advanced capitalism as wages have stagnated or declined for the last 40 years, and unions have weakened; new militancy of workers joining that of other social strata beginning in the US in the 1970s and continuing today in the anti-austerity movements in Europe and worker protests in China; the at-least-formally-given death knell to Meany-Kirkland guns-and-butter trade unionism by the election of John Sweeney and later Richard Trumka to head the AFL-CIO, and by the active presence of left activists now in many unions; and the partial victories of the civil rights movement which, while not doing much to alleviate the poverty and desperation of the African American working class, have opened doors of opportunity previously nonexistent, and have created a larger black middle class and even, ironically, a layer of prominent black conservatives such as Herman Cain, Clarence Thomas, Condoleezza Rice and others who oppose many of the civil rights movement’s gains. Many of these changes could not have been anticipated—which only enhances the political value and perspicacity of the analyses contained in this collection.

      The centerpiece of the volume is clearly the long paper, “Toward a Theory of Social Change: The ‘Port Authority Statement’,” a rigorous attempt by SDS activist scholars David Gilbert, Robert Gottlieb and Gerry Tenney to present a New Left analysis of capitalism and US empire, and to posit a political direction for young activists of that time. This is an impressive work, no matter how much one might question its New Working Class thesis of a displaced traditional proletariat, its seeing the locus of power for social change in the underclass, or its view that capitalist “post-scarcity” could essentially go on forever. The Port Authority Statement is worthwhile reading even today, and should join with the much better known and available Port Huron Statement as powerful manifestos that articulate the New Left viewpoint.

      Also of value, though less so, is the 1968 statement of early feminism written by Naomi Jaffe and Bernardine Dohrn, “The Look Is You: Rising Feminism vs. Mass Media.” This paper offers a strong critique of the exploitation of women through consumption, although its then-fashionable implication (associated with the philosopher Herbert Marcuse) of an all-pervasive social control and domination was given the lie precisely by the vibrant movements of the 1960s, including that of the feminists themselves. In this same vein of articulating strategies that subvert control and domination is the last article in this volume, Carl Davidson’s 1970 “Toward a Critical University: Counter-Hegemony in Education.” Furthermore, and very much to its credit, this collection presents the entirety of Noel Ignatin’s and Ted Allen’s long-unavailable collection of essays on white supremacy, “White Blindspot.” The white supremacy thesis was one of the most significant ideological developments within the New Left milieu, although my own experience leads me to question the idea that the racism of white workers reflects any actual privilege as distinct from (to use the older left expression) misguided white chauvinism.

      Distributed through online publisher (;

      Bulk orders from Carl Davidson (

      Reviewed by George Fish
      writer, poet, stand-up comic
      Indianapolis, Indiana

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      Friday, December 27, 2013

      Brownfields, Cleanups and Anti-Union Cranks

      By Carl Davidson
      Keep On Keepin’ On

      My home town of Aliquippa once hosted one of the largest steel mills in the world. Now, after the shutdowns and job exporting of the 1980s, it has one of the largest ‘brownfields’ in the world. That’s seven miles of highly polluted empty land along the Ohio, It’s hard even for weeds to grow there.

      So Aliquippa had the good luck Dec 24, Christmas Eve, to be on the receiving end of a $3 million grant from the state to help clean it up, in order to prepare for new industry. Most people praised our Mayor, Dwan Walker, for helping it along. But not some, such as one letter-writer in our local paper who asserted that retirees of the ‘greedy union’ should clean it up, since they made the mess and ‘profited’ from it.

      The notion of ‘greedy unions’ tells us all we need to know about this guy.

      The workers at this steel mill and others earned every cent they got, and then produced the profits for the bosses as well. Where do you think wealth comes from? And some paid a heavier price—I had a grandfather and a cousin killed there.

      In the last days, the union, nearly to a fault, made every concession it could to keep the mill open. But the owners decided they wanted to gamble in oil futures instead. ‘I’m in business to make money, not steel’ was the famous boss quote of the day.

      That tells you the nature of finance capital vs. productive capital. They ‘make money’ but they do not make wealth. Same as the folks who own casinos and race tracks. They make money, but no real wealth.

      Cleaning up this ‘brownfield’ creates infrastructure that can attract some productive capital—and labor along with it—to make new wealth.

      Whether workers are hired locally and get a decent wage and a union is a point of struggle. We’ve always had to organize and fight to get anything. Otherwise, we’d still be working for slave masters or bowing down on our knees to Kings, Queens and the Lords on the Manor.
      The workers did indeed see the land being poisoned, and most supported the EPA rules against it. It was the owners who exported mills to Brazil and others places without EPAs.
      Why do you think the frackers are afraid of union labor? Because union members have the backing and the backbone to report on toxic spills. Why are they afraid of local labor? Because the families of local workers live here too, and they also thus have good reason to oppose toxic dumping.

      But perhaps our ‘greedy union’ critic is right in a backhanded way. It may very well be that we can’t have capitalism along with jobs for all, a living wage and a healthy environment—not because it can’t be done theoretically, but out of sheer greed and stupidity. If so, I thank him for making my case for moving to socialism of the 21st century.

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      Friday, December 06, 2013

      Strategy and the US Six-Party System

      STRATEGY, the Left and Doing Battle in the Electoral Arena. A new Slide Show in our ‘Study Guides’ section prepared by Carl Davidson, National Co-Chair, Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, CLICK TITLE ABOVE TO DOWNLOAD.To get regular updates, be sure to ‘Like’ us at You can also ‘subscribe’ to our FB page and send in articles for our blog at the OUL main site,

      STRATEGY, the Left and Doing Battle in the Electoral Arena. A new Slide Show in our ‘Study Guides’ section prepared by Carl Davidson, National Co-Chair, Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, CLICK TITLE ABOVE TO DOWNLOAD THE SLIDESHOW THAT GOES WITH THE ARTICLE BELOW.

      Strategic Thinking on the U.S. Six Party System


      Congressional Progressive Caucus presenting its platform

      "If you know the enemy and know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt; if you know Heaven and know Earth, you may make your victory complete."
      —Sun Tzu, The Art of War

      By Carl Davidson
      Keep On Keepin’ On

      Successful strategic thinking starts with gaining knowledge, particular gaining adequate knowledge of the big picture, of all the political and economic forces involved (Earth) and what they are thinking, about themselves and others, at any given time. (Heaven). It’s not a one-shot deal. Since both Heaven and Earth are always changing, strategic thinking must always be kept up to date, reassessed and revised.

      To make a political assessment of the forces commanded by the U.S. bourgeoisie and its subaltern allies and strata, it helps to make an examination of Congress, the White House and other Beltway institutions, as well as voting trends and others political and cultural among the masses. And to get an accurate estimation, we must often tear away, set aside or bracket misleading labels and frames, as well as assess varying economic resources and voting results. We want to illuminate an intentionally obfuscated landscape, like when a flash of lightning at night does away with shadows and renders the landscape in sharp relief.

      The primary conventional wisdom we want to dissect here is that the U.S. has a two-party system.  First, the nature of political parties in the US today is rather unique; they are not parties in any European parliamentary sense, where members are bound to a program or platform with some degree of discipline, and mass party organizations exist at the base. Second, the Republicans and the Democrats in the US are largely empty shells locally, consisting mainly of incumbents and staffers, and their retained lawyers, fundraisers and media consultants. There is some variation from state to state—state committeemen and women will pass resolutions and certify ballot status and positions, but there’s not much of a mass character save for an occasional campaign rally. Third, at the Congressional level the two-party structure, to some degree, still allows for dividing the spoils of committee assignments, but even these are often warped by other considerations.

      A few also like to argue that the US has only one party, a capitalist party, with two wings, the bad and the worse. But this is reductionist to a fault, and doesn’t tell you much other than that we live in a capitalist society, which is rather trivial.

      Some also hold out hope for a ‘third party’ that is noncapitalist. But given the ‘winner take all’ rules in most elections, along with the amount of money and resources required to mount credible campaigns, these are long shots, save for periods of crisis and upheaval, like the period just before the U.S Civil War, where the Whigs imploded, the Liberty Party had a role, and a new ‘First Party’ formed, the GOP. Another period worth a deeper look is 1944-48, when the rising forces of the Cold War and Southern racism led to a four-way race in 1948 between the Dixiecrats (Strom Thurmond), the Democrats (Harry Truman), the GOP (Thomas Dewey) and the Progressive Party (Henry Wallace).

      Our Six-Party System

      But today, we’ll do better to get a more accurate picture of our adversaries if we set aside the labels of ‘two-party system’, ‘Democrats’ and ‘Republicans’ and the other nuances mentioned above.  Instead, I’ll offer an alternative working hypothesis, that we live under a six-party system with two labels, and that this will give us a closer and more realistic view of the relation and balance of forces with which we have to deal. But even here, it’s important to note that we are discussing ‘parties’ as clusters of colluding and contending blocs of interests, economic views and social coalitions, not unified and disciplined ideological formations strictly bound to a platform. The six ‘parties’ described here below, however, do come closer to these kinds of constructs than the larger ‘two labels’ they operate under.

      So who are they?

      The Tea Party. So far, only the most far right group has been given the label ‘party’ in the mass media, even though it operates as a faction within the GOP. It generally represents anti-globalist nationalism with a prominence given to the ‘Austrian School’ economics of classical liberalism and, in some cases, the self-interest philosophy of Ayn Rand. It also merges with paleo-conservative traditionalists, which serves as a cover for defending white and male privilege and armed militia groups. It appeals to about 10-20 percent of the electorate, with greater support in the South and West. It is currently locked in a fierce factional struggle with the other wing of the GOP. While a minority in the House overall, they dominate the GOP House Caucus, and thus, as reported widely on 24-hour news cycles, they can and do block many bills from coming to the floor. Tea Party incumbents have been aided in gaining and retaining their seats by GOP-led redistricting on the level of the states they control, breaking up districts electing Democrats and forming new one with more homogenous rightwing majorities. This was begun by Paul Weyrich of the ‘New Right’ under Reagan, and continues to this day

      The Republican Multinationalists. These are the neoliberal moneybags of the GOP (and the neoconservative subset termed ‘The War Party’ by Pat Buchanan and Ron Paul from the right)-the Bushes, Cheney, Karl Rove, the Koch brothers and others with fortunes rooted in petroleum, defense industries and other US businesses with global reach. Their neoliberal economics became hegemonic with Reagan’s ascendancy via the anti-Black and anti-feminist ‘Southern Strategy’ alliance with the forces that later came to make up the Tea Party right. The Koch brother’s money also helped form ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, thus allowing business lobbyists to write uniform reactionary legislation, mainly on the state level, across the country. Despite statewide gains, the GOP label’s current dilemma is that the Tea Party’s more inane, backward and proto-fascist views on social and cultural issues is causing the GOP tickets to lose national elections, deadlock the Congress and strain the alliance. On the other hand, if the ‘Country Club’ Republicans dump the Tea Party, the GOP itself may implode

      The Blue Dogs. This caucus in the Democratic Party is tied to ‘Red State’ mass voting bases-the military industrial workers, and the Southern and Appalachian regions. They are neo-Keynesian on military matters, but neoliberal on everything else. Their ‘party’ frequently sides with the GOP in Congressional voting. The Blue Dog Coalition has recently shrunk from 27 to 14 members, often having paved the way to self-defeat by backhandedly encouraging GOP victories in their districts by attacking Obama and other Democrats.

      The ‘Third Way’ New Democrats. This ‘party’ of the center right is mainly the U.S. electoral arm of global and finance capital, with the Clintons and Rahm Emanuel as the better known public faces. Formed to break with ‘economic populism’ of the old FDR coalition, and assert a variety of globalist ‘free trade’ measures and the gutting of Glass-Steagall banking regulations, this new post-Reagan-Mondale grouping decided to put distance between itself and traditional labor allies. While neo-Keynesian on most matters, it also ‘triangulates’ with neoliberal positions. Started as the Democratic Leader Council and the ‘New Democrat Coaltions. John Kerry is a member of the DLC but President Obama has claimed ‘no direct connection,’ even though the grouping lists Obama as one of its ‘rising stars’ The DLC/’New Democrats’ essentially speaks for some of the more powerful elements of finance capital under the ‘Democratic’ label.. It is the dominant view among the Senate Democratic majority.

      Old New Dealers.  This ‘party’ is represented by unofficial wealthy Democratic groups like Americans Coming Together, plus the AFL-CIO’s Committee on Political Education and others. They take a Keynesian approach to economic matters, and are often critical of finance capital and the trade deals promoted by the globalists. They are also wary of deep defense cuts that would cause layoffs among their membership base. They maintain, however, strong alliances with some civil rights, women’s and environmental groups. Their main value to Democratic tickets is their independent get-out-the-vote operations, which can be decisive in many races. They also work closely with the Alliance for American Manufacturing, a business-based anti-free trade lobby that works with labor.

      PDA/Congressional Progressive Caucus. While the largest single caucus in the House, the CPC ‘party’ is still relatively small, representing 80 out of 435 votes. Its policy views are Keynesian and, in some cases, social-democratic as well.  Its recent ‘Back-to-Work Budget’ serves as an excellent economic platform for a popular front against finance capital. It also largely overlaps with the Hispanic and Black Caucuses, and is the most multinational ‘Rainbow’ grouping in the Congress. It also includes Senator Bernie Sanders, the sole socialist in Congress, who was an initial founder of the CPC. It has opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, under the Progressive Democrats of America banners of ‘Healthcare Not Warfare’ and ‘Windmills Not Weapons.’ It has recently gained some direct union support from the militant National Nurses United and the Communications Workers of America. Many, but not all, CPC members are also members of Progressive Democrats of America, an independent PAC dubbed the ‘Tom Hayden/ Dennis Kucinich’ Democrats at the time of their founding in 2004. The Congressional Progressive Caucus is the closest political group the US has that would parallel some of the ‘United Left’ socialist and social democratic groups in European countries

      What Does It All Mean?

      With this brief descriptive and analytical mapping of the upper crust of American politics, many things begin to fall in place. Romney, a very wealthy representative of the Multinational GOP group, defeated all the Tea Party candidates in the primaries, and consequently, could never convince the Tea Party he was one of them, simply because he wasn’t. This led to a drop in GOP voter enthusiasm that couldn’t even be overcome with ‘dog whistle’ appeals to racism and revanchism in the campaigns.

      The Obama administration, on the other hand, at its core, represents an alliance between the DLC ‘Third Way’ and the Old New Dealers, while also pulling along the PDA/Congressional Progressive Caucus as energetic but critical secondary allies. The Blue Dogs found themselves out in the cold from the wider Obama coalition, and shrank accordingly. Barbara Lee of PDA and the CPC, moving from a minority of one on Afghanistan at the start of the invasion, finally got a majority of House Democrats to oppose and push Obama on the wars, but to little avail in any immediate sense, being thwarted by both the DLC and the Multinational GOP.

      This ‘big picture’ also reveals much about the current budget debates, which are shown to be three-sided-the extreme austerity neoliberalism of the Tea Party Ryan budget, the ‘austerity lite’ budget of the DLC-dominated Senate Democrats, and the left Keynesian progressive ‘Back to Work’ budget of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. The ‘Old New Dealers’ were caught in the middle, with only 20 or so coming over on the Black Caucus version of the ‘Back to Work’ budget, which was still in the minority.

      While all this shows why and how Obama was able to pull together a majority electoral coalition, it also reveals why he is still thwarted on pulling together an effective governing coalition. Likewise, it shows how the Tea Party, with only 10-20 percent of the electorate, is able to water down or completely bloc common-sense measures on gun control with 70-90 percent support among the general population.

      Finally, the fact that there is only one avowed socialist in Congress tells us something about our own position in the overall balance of forces. Socialist candidates are only able to draw 2% to 5% of the votes in this period, save for Sanders, and we all know that Vermont has some unique features that made it possible, not that Sanders didn’t do yeoman work in pulling together a progressive majority that elected him.

      In summary, here are a few things to keep in mind.  If you decide to intervene in electoral work to build independent working class grassroots organizations, you don’t go ‘inside the Democratic Party’. There’s not much of an ‘inside’ there anymore. What you do instead is join or work with one of the two factions/’parties’ that are left of center.  Your aim is to make either of these stronger, preferably the PDA/Congressional Progressive Caucus. Then to shift the overall balance of forces, your task is to defeat the Tea Party, the Multinational GOP, and the Blue Dogs. At present, not a single piece of progressive legislation is going to get passed without driving a wedge between the two parties under the GOP label and weakening both of them.

      We have to keep in mind, however, that ‘shifting the balance of forces’ is mainly an indirect and somewhat ephemeral gain. It does ‘open up space’, but for what? Progressive initiatives matter for sure, but much more is required strategically. We are interested in pushing the popular front vs. finance capital to its limits, and within that effort, developing a socialist bloc. If that comes to scale, the ‘Democratic Party Tent’ is likely to collapse and implode, given the sharper class contractions and other fault lines that lie within it, much as the Whigs did in the 19th Century. That demands an ability to regroup all the progressive forces into a new ‘First Party’ alliance able to contend for power

      An old classic formula summing up the strategic thinking of the united front and popular front is appropriate here: ‘Unite and develop the progressive forces, win over the middle forces, isolate and divide the backward forces, then crush our adversaries one by one.’ In short, we have to have a policy and set of tactics for each one of these elements, as well as a strategy for dealing with them overall. Finally, a note of warning from the futurist Alvin Toffler: ‘If you don’t have a strategy, you’re part of someone else’s strategy.’

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