by Sean O'Torrain
In my home country (Ireland) the old way is to make out you know as little as possible. Like African Americans came to learn showing your were too smart could get you killed by the ruling elite. So like many others of my background I will say "You know you might be right there, by God your are not so slow, I will have to think about that now." As I said, the rule tended to be whatever you say say nothing.
I am only rambling on here. Well maybe not. I am a wee bit homesick today, missing the grey mist of rain, the grey rocks sticking up through green grass, the grey Atlantic crashing on to the western shores. While here I am in in Chicago, a flat ugly city where if you go over a bump on the road it threatens to give you an erotic experience.
So anyway where was I? I had a wee read of Yeats there to keep me going, I know he was influenced by fascism towards the end but he was a poet of great genius. He also had a bit of humor. He wrote:"Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy which sustained him through periods of joy." I am laughing here.
He also wrote: "Things fall apart the center cannot hold." This brings me to today. I am getting old and this is a factor. I have some health problems and this is another factor. But this not the full story. The full story is that I just cannot keep up with all the gigantic uprisings and wars and civil wars climate destruction, the rising of the women, the movements against sexism and racism, and new issues with which we are being confronted. Never has there been a time like this. Yes it for sure is right. For capitalism things fall apart the center cannot hold.
But for the working class thing are not so good either. The center is not holding together too good there either. The big issue is this. What force will arise or will a force arise that can overthrow capitalism and take society forward to its new phase of international democratic socialism before all is destroyed by climate change, mass starvation and nuclear war. The union and labor leaders control the organizations of the working class and should do this job. They should be providing the aggressive offensive center. But they will not. Cowardly, intellectually duller than ducks, with their badly designed suits huddling beside the Obamas and the rest of them, they are terrified. Only if a movement is built below them that threatens all their privileges and positions will they do anything.
So new forces will have to be built. We see the youth and workers and women in Egypt forcing the overthrow of Mubarak, then making the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood untenable, and now taking on the military. It is heroic, beyond heroic. We see them taking on the US armed military with only rocks and their bare hands. I cannot see the steps forward that are necessary internationally being taken without such steps.
I do not think that what Marx said that capitalism could be changed peacefully is any longer accurate. Look at the richest of the major capitalist countries the US. Before the working class are even rising the capitalist class have armed its state to the teeth, are spying on just about everybody. They are ready to put the workers movement down in blood in every country. Is the Egyptian military's decision to put down the Muslim Brotherhood come hell or high water not the music of the future?
Unless, that is, fighting forces are built in the working class. Not just amongst the courageous youth. But also amongst the big battalions, the working class, in the factories, the transport industries, the energy sectors, the huge retail chains and so on. And fighting forces that take on the divisions, the sexism, the racism, and are prepared to fight and literally fight, that is not just by giving out flyers. This will be important of course in the struggle for the consciousness of the working class but serious combative measures will be necessary.
I remember being at a meeting of auto workers in Detroit some years ago. I think it was around the Delphi struggle. There were about a dozen workers around the table talking tactics. I made the point that the bosses would win unless the factories were taken over and physically defended, other forces mobilized on the outside to fight and an all out battle such as the 1930's waged, such as the youth of the black revolt waged. I remember so clearly how the eyes of the workers turned away. They were not ready to hear that. The Delphi bosses won. The working class will have to stop turning away, will have to face this reality, will have to be ready to hear this, or face defeat.
And what about the left and the radical forces here and internationally. I agree with putting forward a program for a new society and also using the transitional method. but I do not agree with leaving the issue of strategy and tactics aside. We have to tell the truth. The bosses will massacre the workers in their millions if they are allowed to in their effort to keep the power. I believe the bosses would be prepared to drop tactical nuclear weapons on their own cities to keep the power. Not only do we have to prepare to fight but we also have to tell workers they have to organize to fight and this also means winning over sections of the state apparatus. The gains of the thirties were won by fighting, the gains of the 60's also. They are all being taken away.
And back again to wee Yeats and also Joyce. Yeats said "Do not wait to strike when the iron is hot but make it hot by striking." He said "Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." He wrote :"Think like a wise man (woman) but communicate in the language of the people." Wee Yeats was not so slow.
Then there is the man himself wee Joyce. But before quoting him. The revolutionary left and this includes all of us, including myself, have achieved the most pathetic of results in this period of worldwide upheaval with the center not holding. I believe this has been because of a combination of left sectarianism, ultra leftism and opportunism. I may be wrong on this. But there is some reason more than the objective situation for our pathetic failure. We have to stop this what we used to call at home :"whistling past the graveyard." That is pretending that all is well when anybody with an eye in their head can see it is not. And when the proof is there for all to see. There are no mass forces moving to the revolutionary left.
So to Joyce. He wrote: "A man's (woman's) errors are his portals of discovery." What do I mean by putting this here. I mean that the revolutionary left have made mistake after mistake in the past decades. Myself included. We have to face up to this. And dialectically turn these mistakes into their opposite that is "portals" which if we enter can allow us to correct our ways. This means openly recognizing and articulating publicly our mistakes. I do this regularly. What makes me worry more than anything else is that most of the small forces which claim the mantle of revolutionary socialism continue to go on as if they have never made any mistake, as if they are still correct on everything. This is a recipe for disaster. We have to as wee Joyce said see that our errors are made into portals for discovery. This means openly and publicly articulating our errors and discussing these in the working class movement in as Yeats says the language "of the people.
- AFSCME Local 444 negotiations assesment 1997
- Preparing for Revolution: A discussion document
- The Internal lives of Revolutionary Organizations
- Socialist Alternative members: Questions and Answers
- Sanders: Our Alternative
- The Nature of the New European Left
- Catastrophic Climate Change: Caused by Capitalism
- University of California workers and Unions
- An Invitation to Our Readers