Thursday, January 30, 2014

Kshama Sawant: Building a broader movement

A statement from Facts For Working People
John Throne
Wendy Forrest
Richard Mellor
Mike Benca

Kshama Sawant, the socialist elected to Seattle City Council gave a good response to Obama’s State of the Union Address. This should be our starting point. It was a good speech because it targeted the 1% and helped those who watched it become more conscious of the need to organize and fight this 1%. Her speech made those who watched it more conscious of themselves as a class. This has to be said; it was very good and Comrade Sawant and Socialist Alternative have to be congratulated for this.

Of course no one would seriously demand that we end there and that is that. It is only helpful to Comrade Sawant and Socialist Alternative, and to those who won the good vote in Minneapolis, and to those who campaigned and won elections as Independent Labor candidates in Ohio and to those who are watching and thinking about her victory, that we go a little bit further into the issue.

It was important that Sawant urged union members to get active in their unions. But it was a mistake to completely ignore the role of the trade union leaders and how they also support capitalism and how they actively and most determinedly suppress the most active fighters in their ranks. If you get involved in your union and genuinely fight for the rank and file you will come in to conflict with the labor bureaucracy or hierarchy as some call them. They will forcefully try to crush any movement that threatens their relationship with the bosses built on labor peace.  So it is important we warn workers of this and also help them fight in their organizations, build a base, and build fighting opposition caucuses out of which new leadership can emerge.

It would have been important to explain that behind this suppression of any militancy from below is the Team Concept, the view that workers and bosses have the same interests, this view is held by the labor leadership from the top down.  This is the primary reason for the betrayals and suppression of any movement from below that seriously challenges the bosses’ concessions as we saw at Boeing where International Union officials came in and forced a concessionary contract down the member’s throats. It is the same reason the labor hierarchy supports the Democrats.

The authors of this commentary have been discussing the developments around Comrade Sawant from a number of angles. First, why did the SocAlt as opposed to other groups on the left, make this breakthrough in Seattle?  

We believe it was not an accident but a result of a strength Socialist Alternative has and has had in the past. This is its orientation to the working class. This is why two of us authored here joined the CWI (Socialist Alternative is an affiliate of the CWI) in the first place and spent so many years in its ranks. The CWI has maintained this orientation to the working class. It continues to place importance on dialogue with the working class, and because of this it was able to put forward a program, the minimum wage, housing, tax the rich etc. (there are other issues, jobs, incarceration, environment, racism, sexism, public services, organizing the unorganized etc. which we think could have gotten more emphasis but we cannot have everything) which connected with the working class as did the foreclosure work the group has been involved in. These are all issues that impact the working class as a result of the 1%’s austerity agenda.

Kshama and Socialist Alternative also linked this program with the use of direct action tactics which allowed for victories that in turn gave confidence to the workers it could reach, confidence that they could fight and have an effect in at least halting and in some small cases throwing back the capitalist offensive.  

We congratulate and thank the CWI, and Socialist Alternative on their successes. 

We have been discussing for some time the issue of the internal life of left/socialist groups, publishing our views on our blog and also in other forums.  At times, we have met considerable resistance to this with some comrades saying our efforts were not constructive, that the undemocratic and sometimes poisonous internal life of left groups is simply a matter of incorrect political perspectives. But we believe even more strongly, that recent developments in Seattle, and the effects these will have on Socialist Alternative and it’s parent, the CWI shows that this is not correct

We have argued that the CWI with its present internal life could never become a semi mass or mass organization. We said that the more influential and bigger this organization would get the more debate and discussion and differences would develop. We believe this is correct and inevitable. It must not be seen as some terrible evil, or something that can be avoided, but as inevitable. 

Trotsky said that changes in the objective situation, as well as victories or defeats for the revolutionary organization, would inevitably lead to different views and ideas within those organizations as with such changes the revolutionary organization would have to adjust and to do so it would have to debate and discuss; it would have to go through internal struggle. And most importantly he stressed that unless the revolutionary organization could allow for these differences and debates to find expression inside the revolutionary organization then they would be expressed in a negative way in the form of splits, resignations, expulsions. Sadly, these are trademarks of todays left organizations. It is for this reason that a healthy internal life, with an atmosphere which welcomes debate and discussion and in which factions are seen as inevitable, is the only way that an organization can become a semi mass or a mass organization which can take the movement forward. 

Look at the situation of the SocAlt now. It has won a very important victory in Seattle and also in
SocAlt candidate Ty Moore in Minneapolis
Minneapolis. Because of these many new people and groups are coming around it and many other groups seeking to work with it. From San Francisco to Chicago, many individuals and socialist groups want to help to build on the success of the Sawant campaign.

We welcome this. Socialist Alternative as an organization now has to work out how to handle this. Inevitably there will be the tendency towards increased discussion and debate inside the group in relation to this.  After all, two heads are better than one, the insight and input of the entire membership is better than a few comrades in a small committee working out a position and imposing this on the membership. 

We hope that SocAlt and the CWI have changed and will be able to handle their victories and opportunities in a way that takes the movement forward and also does not lead to a crisis inside these organizations. After saying this, we are concerned that a visit to San Francisco by Comrade Sawant was abruptly cancelled.  The organizers had gathered some 40 individuals to help build on the victory of Socialist Alternative in Seattle.

For former members, it looks suspiciously like the old ways, that the CWI wants to get its ducks in a row so it can control any ensuing movement. If this were the case this would be very negative for the movement. It would only increase the old sectarianism of the revolutionary left with the destructive affects this would have on the potential that exists after Seattle, Minneapolis and Ohio. Destructive in the sense that increasingly activists and fighters and groups would see that they had to take the CWI line or they would not be welcome. The most likely result would be they would turn away and the potential broader movement would be still born.

So what should the CWI and Socialist Alternative do? Firstly, we believe they should work out how they can best build on their victories coming out of Seattle and Minneapolis.  They should also link with and see what is possible with the Independent Labor people in Ohio and also with the anti-foreclosure groups, the increase the minimum wage groups, the low wage movements in Walmart and Fast Food, the anti police brutality struggles, the anti-racist and anti-sexist struggles and the racist and sexist and class based s0-called justice system.  In short this is an opportunity to draw in all the groups that are fighting one or another aspect of the 1%’s, war on working people.

The Sawant campaign has considerable clout at the moment and rightly so. We believe they should use their hard won influence, draw up a program of basic demands on these issues. Not a major thesis but some simple hard-hitting demands put together in a program or a charter or whatever is the modern way to pose this in today's world. It should link this to mass direct-action tactics to achieve these demands. We do not need another protest movement but a direct action movement which has as its objective fighting to win. This broader movement should pose as a central demand – Make the 1% pay.  

Conferences should then be called or convened based on the agreed demands and direct action tactics that would broaden the movement further.

And it is here we come to the approach of the CWI and SocAlt both in their relationship to the movement and also its internal life. Success in building such a movement will inevitably mean working with different groups and different forces. These will run the gamut from community-based groups fighting for housing and jobs and wages and against environmental destruction etc., to groups which consider themselves revolutionary socialists and anarchists. The CWI and the SocAlt must not be afraid of such a development. 

Over the past period, those of us around Facts For Working People have discussed whether or not the Sawant campaign should focus on building a left, socialist or workers party, or a broader movement. We have come to the conclusion that it would be more correct at this time and with the present situation to make building a broader movement, broad fighting network the priority.

We believe that to seek to build a left party, a socialist party or a workers party, would at this time act as an obstacle to many activists, especially working class activists, and also groups, from joining the broader movement or network that could now possibly be built. We would be asking them to join a socialist party, a left party, a workers party when the stage they are at is wanting to fight the austerity agenda of the 1%; to drive back the capitalist offensive. We believe the best way to build on the victories is to build a broader movement or a fighting network not a party. And to build this around the type of movement we suggest, that is an anti capitalist offensive movement with a program of demands that challenges the capitalist offensive and uses direct action tactics. One advantage of this approach would also be that it would make it possible for the many youth who fought in Occupy and who consider themselves anarchists to be part of this movement.

Karl Marx wrote in a letter to a friend, “Every step of real movement is more important than a dozen programs.” This has to be seen in context of course and is not always correct but at this stage of the movement in this country, at this stage when it could be snuffed out by incorrect actions by small groups we believe the building of a broader movement on an anti capitalist direct action basis is the best way forward. 

We would therefore most strongly suggest to Socialist Alternative that rather than in any way seeking to control the potential movement in advance, that it draw up a program based on direct action tactics and seek to build a broad movement based on this approach. We believe that in spite of the polls that show significant numbers who favor socialism over capitalism, and in spite of Comrade Sawant speaking of socialism and still getting elected, that to pose in front of activists and groups which are fighting on the day to day concrete issues to build a socialist party, a left party a workers party, or even a socialist movement would be to run in front of the mood and the possibility of building the broadest possible fighting movement/network through which consciousness could rapidly change.

This does not mean that we believe that socialism should not be raised. On the contrary, we believe very strongly that it should be raised. But we believe the way to do this is while building the broader movement on an anti capitalist direct action basis we also seek to build within this movement a revolutionary socialist current, and that we do this in a non-sectarian way. That is, we put as a priority, building the broader movement while at the same time and on a consistent basis we organize within this broader movement discussions and debates on socialism as opposed to capitalism, on history and revolutionary socialist theory.  We also believe that discussions should be held and explanations given against sectarianism, ultra leftism and opportunism and how these mistaken approaches have done damage to movements in the past. In this way a healthy revolutionary socialist movement could be developed as part of a mass anti capitalist direct action movement/network. In this way the revolutionary socialist current would have the potential to become a mass force in its own right and go on to be in a position to challenge capitalism and build a democratic socialist society not only in the US but internationally.

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