“Capitalism has no answers that humanity can afford to accept.”
Preface: The following are a set of theses which summarize what we—the NEC—believe to be the central components of the present conjuncture or moment. This is being written in this format for reasons of ease in both writing and reading. We look forward to your feedback.
(1) The crisis we face is represented by the intersection of economic, environmental and political forces. The nature of this intersection makes this moment extremely dangerous as well as one containing immense possibilities. While we do not subscribe to the notion that capitalism will collapse on its own, the interrelationship of these 3 factors (mentioned above) could not only bring about a collapse of the State but also fundamentally change the conditions under which we live as human beings.
(2) With regard to the economic crisis, the common joke about (and among) the Left is that we have predicted 10 of the last 3 recessions. There is an important truth to this. In large part due to economic determinism and mechanical thinking, much of the Left has failed to understand the elasticity of capitalism. Capitalism, as a system, brings with it crises. There is no other capitalism. Yet in the aftermath of these crises a new method of accumulation emerges out of the ashes of the old. The form of accumulation and the nature of the state structure, however, have depended on the dynamics of the class struggle. Under certain distinct conditions, the crises have laid the basis for an anti-capitalist revolution, but for such revolutions to be successful the consciousness and organization of the oppressed are necessary. Otherwise there is a reorganization of capitalism but on different terms.
(3) The current economic crisis, which can be described as a global recession or depression (there is no consensus on this at present, but it tends towards a depression) represents both the results of a crisis of overproduction and a crisis brought on by financial speculation (the so-called casino economy). (See our statement on the crisis for more.)
(4) The depth of the crisis can in part be found in the constant efforts by capital to find a way out of its stagnation through the use of asset bubbles (e.g. the housing boom). Funds that could have been put into social needs—under a different system—were not, due to the profits that were being sought. With deregulation and the ideology of neo-liberalism, the restrictions on investment, credit, tax cuts and speculation were largely lifted. While the ideology of “trickle down economics” promoted the idea that greater funds in the hands of the elite would result in a rising living standard for the common person (through investment in jobs), nothing of the sort transpired. Funds were used in order to buy other institutions or, as we saw with the credit boom, release immense amounts of funds with an aim of gaining a very quick turnaround.
(5) With regard to the environment, this is the unstable element in the larger equation. The deterioration of the environment has moved much faster than had been assumed, even by large portions of the Left. Most of the Left took environmental issues less than seriously except around nuclear power and, in some cases, toxic wastes. Climate change and the fact that it was a reality for living human beings (rather than a distant possibility) was, until fairly recently, not on the table.
The depths of climate change are chilling.
- Beehives are collapsing worldwide imperiling pollination, the key to plant growth.
- Seas are being fished out, leading to both intended and unintended consequences. For example, today’s Somali pirates were for the most part fishermen whose waters have been fished out by mega trawlers from more developed nations.
- Commodification and increased fighting over increasingly limited natural resources (like water), has made the world’s poor even poorer. Women of color have especially been affected.
It is important to note that environmental catastrophe, matched with the economic crisis, can very well lead to some sort of large scale societal collapse. The scope of such a collapse is impossible to accurately predict. Yet it is not beyond the realm of possibility that humans could be forced to live underground because of the impact of the environmental crisis on the hospitability of the surface of the Earth. Should something along those lines come to past, this would more than likely not mean the end of capitalism, but it would more than likely mean the end of the lives of millions, if not billions, and the end of anything approaching bourgeois democracy (not to mention eliminating the socialist option).
- It is in this context that it is appropriate to discuss or frame our tasks within the rubric of “ecosocialism.” This notion is very broad, but for our purposes it should mean that addressing the environment is not an add-on to a long list of programmatic demands. Rather it should mean that the sort of socialism for which we fight is one where addressing environmental catastrophe is central.
- At the theoretical level, the Left must challenge the traditional Marxist-Leninist thinking around “the development of productive forces” that has fueled both the growth imperative and consumerism.
(6) With regard to the political dimensions to the crisis, there is a crisis of “legitimacy” within and among the capitalist states. The state’s “legitimacy,” having its roots in European thinkers like Locke and Rousseau, is based on the idea that people will give up certain things in exchange for the state’s obligation of taking care of some of people’s needs. This trade off is greatly affected by the balance of power among the various forces within the state (classes, nationalities, corporations). This current crisis of legitimacy is tied to the quandary of neo-liberal globalization and the emergence of a transnational capitalist class.
- Neo-liberal globalization brought with it the weakening of the sovereignty of many capitalist states. Insofar as they were linked to one another, particularly through free trade agreements, said agreements often put restrictions on the ability of the State to act in the interests of the population of their respective countries. This does not mean that the State, or specifically the nation-state, is no longer important. Rather, its importance has shifted.
- The capitalist state has achieved, historically, legitimacy through hegemony and repression. It is critical to acknowledge that stable capitalist societies cannot rely on repression alone (a fact that would have haunted Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Fascist Japan had they won or drawn in World War II). Hegemony, in this case, represents an emphasis on the dominance of capitalist values, culture, ideas in all spheres of society. To borrow from Antonio Gramsci, the capitalists win when their ideas achieve the status of “common sense.” This is what makes the battle for ideas so critical for all socialists.
- Legitimacy exists to a great extent to the degree to which the capitalist state is perceived as “fair” to a critical mass of people. It is not a matter of whether the State is always fair, but rather that the population believes, all things being equal, the capitalist state has the potential to be fair.
- Part of being fair is protecting the citizens of the nation-state. (How “protection” is defined is another matter, but it can range from stopping immigration to defending the “homeland” against assault to more progressive variants, such as ensuring pensions and eliminating toxic wastes.]. Insofar as the State is unable to protect its citizens and allows its citizens to be ravaged, the State loses legitimacy.
- Thus, in the era of neo-liberal globalization (and quite possibly an era of non-neo-liberal globalization (but globalization in either case)), the erosion of various protections to the citizenry has led to the sense that the State is no longer a legitimate actor. This does not mean that there is a willingness to go beyond the bounds of capitalism, but it can mean a willingness to consider progressive (and radical) and/or reactionary (and often fascist) alternatives to the existing democratic capitalist State.
- Challenges to the legitimacy of the so-called democratic capitalist state in this era of neo-liberal globalization have been met with increased repression. There is a demonstrable tendency towards greater authoritarianism within the context of the capitalist state as neo-liberal globalization increased. This authoritarianism can be found in media coverage; arrests; the growth of the prison-industrial complex; as well as the narrowing of the “acceptable” sphere for legitimate, mainstream politics. This tendency is different, however, from fascism which is more characterized by a radical, right-wing social movement. It is unclear how or if the Obama administration policy will change the authoritarian state.
(7) The global reorganization of capitalism, which is the essence of globalization, has resulted in what theorist Samir Amin calls the “Triad” (to be distinguished from the Chinese gang which uses the same name). The Triad refers to the imperialist blocs of the US- dominated NAFTA (and subsequent Western Hemispheric alignments); the European Union; and the Japanese-led sections of Asia. While there are other significant economies, such as Russia, China, and India, they do not yet head a bloc. They negotiate with the Triad and with components of the Triad.
(8) Contemporary imperialism is not mainly characterized by the competition between empires that was characteristic of the pre-World War II situation. To borrow from Maoist phraseology from the period of the two superpowers (the USA and the USSR), the relationship among the imperialist states is one of competition and cooperation, but it is, or at least has been, largely under the hegemony of US imperialism. In the absence of a transnational capitalist state, the US imperialist state has operated as the state for global capitalism. It has been the enforcer and cajoler in the advance of global capitalism.
- The economic crisis certainly brings with it the possibility of a shattering of the Triad, or the emergence of economic competitors with either the Triad or one or more of its components. Yet what is striking about the present situation is that none of the imperialists or emerging capitalist powers (e.g., China, India) has been rooting for the collapse of the USA! Even where there are sharp differences, e.g., USA vs. France and Germany on the response to the crisis, the efforts remain to build consensus.
- While countries aren’t looking for the US to collapse, they don’t want the US to continue as the world’s bully (unilateralism of the Bush years). The Obama administration’s return to multilateralism has been an important reason why he has been greeted so well in the rest of the world.
- Even China, the country most likely to challenge US economic hegemony, doesn’t want a US collapse. They have stated they want to be sure their vast investments (especially in US government bonds) remain secure.
- With a multilateralist approach the world’s other nations are happy to let the US remain the global policemen. It means they won’t have to divert national resources to a large standing military. The US military budget is larger than the rest of the world’s put together. (Gates/Zakaria interview CNN 5/3/09)
- As the crisis deepens, domestic considerations may emerge that push for protectionist policies that could destabilize the Triad. The results of that are unpredictable.
(9) The current economic crisis represents a crisis within capitalism, but it is specifically a crisis of neo-liberal globalization. This does not necessarily mean that neo-liberalism is over. In fact, the initial efforts to respond to the crisis have been characterized by a general agreement within capital that:
- So-called market fundamentalism is over.
- Free trade must prevail.
- The State is essential to preserve the system.
- The “Washington Consensus,” ushered in under Clinton, is over. (Although the US State may remain the State of the empire, US hegemony over globalization is being challenged.)
(10) This crisis also does not mean that globalization is over. As we have previously said, neo-liberal globalization is only one possible form for the reorganization of global capitalism. It may be that in the coming years there will be more of a state capitalist orientation, particularly as a response to the unraveling of the neo-liberal model along with the challenges that emerge from the environmental crisis.
(11) Within the global South there are efforts to alter the terms of discussion with the Triad. This is taking two main forms. One is the efforts at building alliances between South Africa, Brazil and India. Sometimes the configuration includes Russia and China. This is essentially a capitalist alignment to better the terms of globalization but in no way could be described as anti-imperialist (and certainly not anti-capitalist). These actors may, at certain moments, provide an opening for other social forces, but at present, that is it.
- A separate effort is towards the development of regional blocs. In Latin America, “ALBA” (the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, initiated by Venezuelan President Chavez) is a progressive effort to unite Latin America to forge an alternative economic development approach. This effort is paralleling those to influence MERCOSUR (the South American trade group), an alignment in which Brazil plays a major role. We should be clear that these are not socialist efforts, but they are progressive anti-imperialist directions. The power of these blocs was a factor in the softening attitude of the US toward Cuba.
- In Africa, renewed efforts at unity continue to be discussed through the framework of the African Union. Libya’s President Qaddafi has been an outspoken proponent of a “United States of Africa”, following from the long Pan-African tradition that even precedes Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. Dubois. The current discussion is not simply ideological but an attempt to address the lingering impact of colonialism (including the bizarre Europe-imposed borders within Africa). These efforts, however, are not aimed at building a socialist Africa. For the most part, and contrary to what is unfolding in Latin America, it is much more oriented towards adjusting the relationship toward and within global capital. Nevertheless, without some form of significant unification, it is likely that Africa will slip further into the abyss. Recently, China has been investing and granting large loans in Africa. It is too early to see how this will play out.
(12) The global crisis of capitalism, the environment and political legitimacy has had a dramatic impact on the global South. The Pentagon has been conducting various studies as well as speculative exercises regarding the impact of growing insecurity in the global South on US national security. The crisis is destabilizing nation-states both due to the unraveling of the export-driven economic model and the overall decline in trade and investment. The environmental crisis, however, is having an additional impact, including drought, rising ocean levels, and the emergence of pests and diseases that are closely related to climate change. The nation-states in the global South have increasing demands on them which, in many cases, they cannot address.
- In this situation the post-Cold War phenomenon of warlordism continues to expand. Some of the worst cases can be found in Africa, e.g., Somalia or the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but one could also look at states such as Burma/Myanmar that in many ways resemble warlord-dominated states. The state, if it exists, becomes an instrument for the pilfering of the population and the natural resources. If there is no nation-state as such, the war lord claims turf and, in many cases, cut their respective deals with transnational capital.
(13) The response to neo-liberal globalization—and the response to the current crisis—has come from both the Right and the Left. Right-wing populism remains an extremely dangerous trend which exists in both the global North and global South. In the global North, right-wing populism has a largely anti-immigrant and anti-finance character. It is not anti-capitalist even where it criticizes capitalism. There are clerical varieties to this right-wing populism, including clerical fascist tendencies. In the global South, right-wing populism can be found in various forms, including but not limited to right-wing Islamism, warlordism, ethno-nationalism, and regionalism. In both the global North and South misogyny is characteristic of right-wing populism, including extreme forms such as rape as a form of political repression.
- As we have previously noted, right-wing populism is particularly dangerous because, contrary to other forms of right-wing ideology, right-wing populism (including its fascist variants) is generally based within a social movement and tends to utilize some of the rhetoric from the Left. For this reason we must understand that “anti- imperialism” does not necessarily mean a phenomenon or practice that is on the Left. There are, and have historically been, right-wing forms of anti-imperialism. In the current era, Al Qaeda is a clerical fascist formation that articulates a rabid form of right-wing anti-imperialism.
(14) In the USA the emergence of the Obama campaign and the subsequent Obama Presidency has been the most remarkable development of this immediate period. Since our last Congress the Bush administration continued to deteriorate, losing popular support to the point of becoming something approximating a joke. By the time of the 2008 financial collapse, the Bush administration, though contemptuous of the masses, nevertheless responded like a deer in the headlights and was ultimately incapable of offering any leadership. The Obama administration has given rise to positive expectations of the state as a guarantor.
- The Obama campaign was able to speak to the anti-Bush sentiment, but also offer hope. Nevertheless, it remained very unfocused and there was a tendency for its supporters to see in Obama what they wanted to see. There was also a tendency that developed to look at Obama as a miracle maker, a point that the political Right has attempted to subsequently use in order to discourage people given that the economy has not yet turned around.
- The Obama campaign attempted to run a race neutral campaign. While the election of an African American struck an objective blow against white supremacy, the unwillingness to discuss race—until and unless forced to—presented a problem for the Obama administration and will continue to do so in that there is now no mandate to introduce racial justice reforms. That said, the fact that millions of whites were willing to vote for an African American was a significant break from US history.
- The Obama administration is, at least at the time of this writing, centrist Democratic, though not identical with the Clinton years. Though there are many Clinton holdovers, thus making the cabinet center-right, there is at least a rhetorical difference when it comes to labor, democratic rights and aspects of foreign policy. Time will tell whether those differences are significant or cosmetic. The Obama administration is, in many respects, reminiscent of the first years of FDR’s administration. The economic policies that are being advanced do not represent a full break with neo-liberalism, but the emphasis on the demand side recalls variants of Keynesianism.
- It is important that we understand that the mere fact of open State involvement in the economy does not mean a repudiation of neo-liberalism. The State, within the neo-liberal paradigm, has been a significant player in advancing that agenda (e.g., the ravages of the Pinochet regime in Chile in the 1970s and 1980s; the New York City fiscal crisis of the mid 1970s; the savings and loan crisis of the late 1980s).
(15) Looking back, a noteworthy feature of the US scene over the last 25+ years is that there has been resistance to the plans of capital, however, such resistance has tended to be isolated. There have been certain major sites of resistance:
- Black-led electoral upsurge of the early-to-mid 1980s;
- Anti-apartheid support movement;
- Immigrant rights movement.
We will explore this briefly, but what we need to emphasize is that, in general, resistance has not been nationalized. In other words, local struggles—whether resulting in victories or defeats (even noble defeats)—have generally not evolved into national movements. Among other things, this is directly related to the weakness of the Left and the lack of credible and significant national Left organizations that can link these struggles.
(16)The struggles mentioned in #15 were national-level. The Black-led electoral upsurge was a combination of the fruition of the Civil Rights/Black Power movements and organized resistance to Reaganism. The anti-apartheid support movement was the culmination of 40 years of work in the USA (and obviously in South Africa). This struck a real blow to Reagan’s foreign policy. The immigrant rights movement, though lacking full cohesion, became a movement for an expansion of democracy; against racism; and implicitly for changes in US foreign policy. It is too early to tell what will happen with the immigrant rights movement, but the other movements, while generally successful on their own terms, were unable to morph into broader democratic movements.
- Today the “traditional” progressive social movements, particularly the Black Freedom Movement, Chicano Movement, Asian Movements, Puerto Rican Movement, Native American Movement, Women’s Movement and Union Movement are in relative disarray.
- The Sunbelt (and the national movements within it), continues to be of strategic importance to the US political economy, and thus, to any fundamental social and economic transformation. That being said, a coherent strategy that has buy-in at the mass level remains elusive. Significant demographic changes resulting from migration/immigration (much of it driven by the disastrous consequences of neo- liberalism) have yet to be theoretically and practically explored.
- The union movement shall be explored in #17. Time and space do not permit an exhaustive analysis of each of these social movements but there are critical points worth noting. Each of these movements is in relative disarray. This disarray, to a great extent, revolves around the exhaustion of the demands from the period in which most of them emerged. This does not mean that they have been victorious (although there have been important and often historic victories). It means that these movements were largely shaped by the era beginning with Roosevelt’s New Deal and going through the mid-1970s. The emergence of neo-liberal globalization and its domestic variant—Reaganism—created a crisis for these movements.
- The Left wings of most of these movements correctly perceived that the bourgeois democratic demands of these social movements were insufficient to win emancipation or victory. In the Black Freedom Movement, for example, this was illustrated by Malcolm X’s demand to shape the objectives of the movement in the context of human rights rather than civil rights. In the Chicano Movement, the demand was for land and freedom, again as opposed to restricting the struggle to more traditional civil rights.
- The Left wings of these movements were often brutally suppressed. The impact of this has been devastating at the generational level, breaking the connection between often deeply-rooted leftists and a new generation seeking direction.
- The Left wings often made serious ultra-“left” and sectarian errors that were rooted in voluntarism, idealism, and later dogmatism. Particularly when the Lefts were under assault they extrapolated from that the conclusion that either the entire movement was under assault or that the ramifications of this repression should be obvious. They also often concluded that this repression indicated the advent of fascism and in some cases, for highly understandable reasons, turned to armed struggle as their response (going beyond self-defense).
- The more mainstream elements of most of these movements, if not glad to see the Lefts repressed, were not particularly up in arms. The mainstream wanted to pursue what could be broadly described as “integration” into US bourgeois democracy and corporate America. (“Integration” here goes beyond the notion of racial integration.)
- While the Women’s Movement won important victories, it failed to win the Equal Rights Amendment, and tended to fragment on racial lines. That said, the broadly defined Women’s Movement had a major impact on all social movements by raising key questions regarding the objectives of the movements; the structure; and the nature of the leadership. The Left wing of this movement, however, suffered its own variant of isolation and relative elimination over time such that the Women’s Movement came to be largely defined by NOW (and similar such groups). Formations like NOW have been unable to break out of their race and class straitjackets. So even though they are capable of large-scale mobilizations, like other progressive social movements, they are incapable of sustained mobilization and new strategy.
- In each case, the challenge of the milieu of neo-liberal globalization has undermined these movements. This could be in the form of the economic, e.g., the so-called deindustrialization of the USA and the disproportionate impact on communities of color, or ideological, e.g., the growth of neo- conservative trends that emphasize entrepreneurialism (including alleged progressive variants) over struggle. We should understand that this challenge is directly related to class struggle within these social movements as well as the external environment.
- By and large, these movements have not been able to constitute an agenda for the 21st century. Segments of the Left-wings of these various movements have made efforts towards reemergence, but these have been largely short- lived.
This problem reflects various factors including:
- Resources, including the reliance on foundation funding which has often developed into NGOism (“tailing” after foundations and/or limiting vision and agenda to keep/seek funding).
- Continued sectarianism.
- Generational conflicts.
- Failure to grasp the new moment.
- The weakness of an overarching Left.
- The crisis of socialism and its impact on the Left as a whole.
- The impact of years of being on the defensive.
- Gomperist unionism (unionism that accepts the logic of capitalism, is structurally and culturally like a business— hierarchical, patriarchal, racist — and narrowly focuses on members instead of the entire working class).
- The immigrant rights movement rose in the 1980s in response to increased migration from Asia, Latin American and the Caribbean, and to some extent, Ireland.
The more militant and left-wing elements of the movement have largely been from Latin America, the Caribbean and parts of Asia. This has emerged as a national movement, but one that remains largely constrained within the framework of morality and civil rights. While the immigrant rights movement is largely a movement of Latinos, there are significant fissures within it, to a great extent determined by nationality/ethnicity but also a fight over political direction. It has, in many cases, overwhelmed the Chicano movement, though there are prominent Chicano activists leading sectors of the movement and working to build unity between Chicanos and Latino immigrants. To a great extent, the immigrant rights movement has shied away from matters of US foreign policy and, as such, has made itself vulnerable since massive immigration to the USA can largely not be explained outside of an analysis of US foreign policy and neo-liberal globalization.
- To the extent to which the immigrant rights movement has attempted to analogize itself to the Civil Rights Movement it has gotten itself caught in a problem. The Civil Rights Movement was largely a manifestation of a phase of the Black Freedom Movement even though it inspired (and was inspired by) other progressive social movement. Although the fight for immigrant rights is a struggle that crosses ethnic boundaries, the principal aspect of this fight is one for Latino rights. This does not discount any other immigrant group, but as a movement rather than a collection of organizations, it is largely defined by its Latino character. This is critical and must be supported. Additionally, while there are aspects to the analogy with the Civil Rights Movement that are appropriate, unless handled carefully, the analogies can miss some of the specific characteristics of the Black Freedom Movement that are largely ignored by mainstream society: African Americans are involuntary migrants to the USA and have, in fact, no where to return.
(With all due respect to Garveyists and other Pan Africanists, while African Americans can technically migrate back to Africa, that is far different than knowing from whence we came and having specific towns, villages or even regions that we can clearly identify as an ancestral home.)
(17) Other fronts in the struggle against neo-liberal capital and the political Right have included the union movement; the social wage movement; the environmental movement; the anti-war movement; the global justice movement, and the LGBTQ movement.
- The union movement, particularly in the period since 1980, has been under severe attack. There have been countless examples of heroic resistance to capital, but the impact of the Cold War and Cold War trade unionism undermined the ability of organized labor to properly respond to the brewing crisis. Trapped in the ideological framework established by Samuel Gompers, along with vicious anti-communism, white supremacy, and national chauvinism, organized labor found itself in retreat, responding to each attack as if it were a surprise. The attempts at reform have been very uneven, but to a great extent have relied on gimmicks or techniques rather than recognizing the need to transform the movement and its objectives.
- The split in the AFL-CIO in 2005 accomplished nothing. It actually frustrated legitimate efforts to understand the nature of the crisis facing organized labor and the working class. It has become apparent that the split failed largely on its own terms. Attempts at reunification speak to the failure. The irony is that these efforts at reunification mirror the circumstances that led to the split, i.e., the lack of any substantive analysis.
- The labor Left has remained weak in this context. Where visible it is mainly in the form of individuals rather than a cohesive force. One notable exception is USLAW (US Labor Against the War). Here the left has successfully constructed a left-center alliance that changed AFL-CIO policy. It is too soon to tell if the Center for Labor Renewal-inspired Labor Committee for Single Payer, using a similar model, can be as successful.
- The social wage movement (non-union, working class efforts, e.g., worker centers) has developed over the last twenty years from relatively isolated worker centers into a burgeoning movement. The social wage movement has roots in the poor people’s movement (including what have been entitled “poor workers’ unions”) of the 1960s and 1970s. This movement includes efforts among the unemployed, homeless, domestic workers, immigrant workers, as well as the generalized poor. The direction of this movement has tended not to be workplace focused, but more addressing the struggle at the level of the community, and as such, sometimes in the political and legislative arena.
- The social wage movement has been an arena for the development of a younger and newer Left. This Left tends to identify more with its particular social movement(s) and with global justice trends than it does with either other organizations within the working class (i.e. unions) or an overarching Left project in the USA.
- The social wage movement has been very much affected by non-profit-ism in that there is a tendency to rely on foundation grants. This movement includes both mass organizations (which are often quite poor financially) as well as advocacy centers (which might have “members” in a technical sense but are led by a staff core).
- The environmental movement has become a very significant force and has evolved fundamentally since its emergence in the late 1960s and early 1970s. While, as noted earlier, segments of the Left tended to disregard the environmental movement as a “petty bourgeois” obsession, various crises transformed both the movement and the national consciousness around its issues. Three Mile Island and Love Canal both demonstrated that the environment was more than an issue of picking up trash and recycling containers. In cases such as these and those that followed, masses of people came to be engaged.
- The expansion of the environmental movement with the growth of the environmental justice movement introduced two important changes. First, it united the environmental movement, or at least a segment of it, with the oppressed nationality movements. This has been in evidence since the early 1990s. Second, there has emerged a global dimension to the environmental movement with the linkage of the fight around the environment with the fight for global justice.
- The environmental fight has become an important front in the struggle against global capital even when some of its proponents advocate admittedly reformist solutions (such as carbon trading) to a situation that demands far more serious steps.
- Environmental and Environmental Justice movements in the US today run the political spectrum, from the corporatist, reformist “top 10” organizations (e.g. the Nature Conservancy or the Environmental Defense Fund) to anti-capitalist, anti-racist organizations that work to empower impacted communities in the fight for ecological, racial and economic justice.
- Organizations on the left of this spectrum, in part, challenge the idea that continuous economic growth (and capitalism) is inherently progressive and positive for our communities and necessary for economic advancement. A new thread of thinking and practice on the left has emerged that incorporates ecological and at times, socialist principles in current struggles and a vision for socialism for the 21st century.
- The environmental and EJ movements today are at a particular juncture, with a unique set of conditions and new openings and possibilities for advancing particular politics and values. These conditions include a broad recognition of the realities of climate change and the possible catastrophic impacts of global warming, a new federal administration that gives lip service to green jobs and addressing environmental realities, and economic crisis. These conditions bring with them opportunities as well as new challenges, as capital moves rapidly to respond to these new times as well.
- The anti-war movement resurfaced after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks and the response by the USA (most immediately the attack on Afghanistan). It is a mass movement, badly divided between United for Peace and Justice and ANSWER. While the anti-war movement has had a significant impact on the consciousness of the people of the USA, it has largely gone uncredited. Thus, it has been able to win over significant anti-war sentiment (in connection with Iraq), but it has been unable to translate this into political power and on-going effort. While it can claim that it helped to influence the election of Obama (Obama would never have won had he not been, at least initially, an anti-war candidate), it has been unable to force an early exit out of Iraq or limit the new run-up in Afghanistan.
- The anti-war movement also had unrealistic expectations of victory given how hard it is to win a disengagement from war by an imperialist power (e.g., the Algerian war for France; Vietnam for the French and later the USA).
- The anti-war movement reached a certain strategic plateau in that, while it correctly focused on Iraq, it has had difficulty transforming into an anti-empire movement. Afghanistan will be a significant test for the movement since Afghanistan has been treated, since the fall of 2001, as the “good war.”
- A second challenge for the movement will be to the extent to which it can deepen the already present motion to eliminate the “war against terrorism” framework and instead push for a democratic foreign policy.
- The global Justice movement is very US-centric. Many of the organized and consolidated forces that we think of as the global justice upsurge of the late 90s have dissipated; people who politically cut their teeth during this time have gone into a variety of organizations in a variety of sectors: local grassroots organizing (around environment, immigrant rights, trade, labor, anti-war, etc.). Part of this shift was due to burn-out around the anti-authoritarian/anarchist organization model.
- There remains a smaller grouping committed to direct action organizing for global trade/finance events (a very small, half-NGO half-anarchist showing at the latest IMF protest in DC in 2009 as a telling example), and global corporate campaigns and/or region-specific international solidarity work.
- One of the more promising and organized core which remains and has re-configured is Grassroots Global Justice, which despite recent internal political struggle, maintains firm contact with the work of the World Social Forum, which has historically been their focus. They are a network of mostly radical, mostly ON-led organizations fighting in low income communities of color in the US (labor rights/JWJ, immigrant rights, tenants’ rights, domestic workers, student anti-sweatshop organizing, indigenous rights, environmental justice, etc.). GGJ put significant time and energy into the US Social Forum and looks to be beginning that cycle for the second round in Detroit, plus some work on pre-forum local events.
- Labor/Global Trade efforts from CEPR to Global Trade Watch to Our World Is Not for Sale march on, with a much wonkier policy-focused agenda, but could be seeing more of resurgence with the possible introduction of the Panama Free Trade Agreement.
- Foundations large and small had moved away from the global justice upsurge as well, and many organizations founded with this purpose have refocused, are dying or attempting to consolidate. Because of the current economic crisis it’s not going to get any better.
- The LGBTQ movement became a critical force in the 1990s and into the 2000s. Homophobia and heterosexism were major rallying principles for the so-called Christian Right. The LGBTQ challenged the rest of the progressive movement to move beyond anti-sexism and agnosticism on heterosexism. Although it did not take on capital as such, it challenged the political Right on matters ranging from terminology (i.e., acknowledging the existence of these groups), to domestic partnership, to healthcare, to marriage.
- At key moments the movement was able to build a broad democratic front or a national agenda.
- The objectives of the LGBTQ movements have largely been those of consistent democracy. These movements have challenged other generally progressive social movements largely around gender relations.
- The LGBTQ movements have also been in the clear vanguard around the struggle concerning HIV/AIDS, both domestically and internationally. They have challenged pharmaceutical genocide in Africa, as well as in the USA. At times, in doing so, they have found themselves with few allies but nevertheless upholding the banner.
- Like other social movements, LGBTQ organizations have struggle to find the right balance between servicing needs at the local level (i.e. HIV/AIDS or teen programs) and a national political agenda/policy that unites local initiatives.
(18) Neo-liberal globalization has brought with it issues relative to both the State (see above) and US foreign policy.
- With the Reagan administration there was a re-militarization of US foreign policy after the complicated, transitional years of the Carter administration. Reagan’s approach toward the USSR and his military Keynesian approach to the economy, as well as the disastrous wars in Central America emphasized a reassertion of hegemony.
- • With neo-liberal globalization there has been an active promotion of free trade arrangements, among the more notorious being NAFTA. But also there has been the development of the international infrastructure to oversee neo-liberal globalization—at least at the economic level—such as the World Trade Organization (WTO).
- With the George H.W. Bush administration and later the Clinton administration, the rhetoric of “human rights” arose to justify a series of interventions. While this was clearly a cynical use of language, and in that sense quite consistent with other opportunistic approaches taken by the USA, in the post-Cold War era there was a gravitation towards this approach in many liberal and even progressive circles. This was important in the interventions in Panama; the first Iraq war; the Balkans; and, of course, during the George W. Bush administration, Afghanistan and Iraq.
- What confused many progressives is that there have been actual cases of genuine human rights abuses in many of the places that the USA has identified. What is missed, however, is the US role and the question of WHO should resolve these issues. The acceptance of much of the human rights discourse in US foreign policy is actually an objective acceptance of the imperial thinking, i.e., that the USA has the right to decide on its own how various circumstances should be analyzed and resolved.
- What has also often been missed is the hypocrisy on the part of the USA when it comes to how it addresses foreign policy and human rights. Case in point: East Timor, in which the USA largely permitted their Indonesian allies to run amok and conduct genocide. The obvious other example was Rwanda in 1994.
- With the George W. Bush administration, however, there was the ascension of that wing of the power bloc that came to be known as the unilateralists. Their assumption, exemplified in the September 2002 National Security Strategy Document (and later amended) was that the USA had the right to set the terms of neo-liberal globalization. As such, it could intervene in the form of preemptive strikes against alleged rogue states and terrorist outfits. This approach pitted one segment of the power bloc against the other. The opponents have held to the view that US capital, while dominant, cannot direct neo-liberal globalization (or any other form of globalization for that matter) exclusively.
- Obama represents those who believe in a multilateral approach to US dominance. In effect it is a view that the US should lead, but cannot rule unilaterally. What we need to understand is that they have not repudiated neo-liberalism. They may attempt to construct another framework for accumulation, but at this point they remain committed to reforming neo-liberalism.
- Obama is attempting to carry out other reforms in US foreign policy. None of this means an end to US imperialism, but it may mean significant changes in the manner in which US imperialism operates and it may open up chances for progressive forces to advance a pro-democratic foreign policy approach.
(19) Two key arenas in foreign policy for the USA will be Palestine and Mexico. While the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan remain front and center, Palestine and Mexico represent particular strategic storm centers for the US, and our ability to build a revolutionary movement. We are not saying that the struggles in Palestine and Mexico have the most revolutionary potential or that we should focus our international work on those that do (for example, we could choose Venezuela, Philipines, Nepal on that basis). What are trying to argue is that these struggles, because of the combination of cultural, political, economic, demographic and geographic factors, have the most impact on the US and consciousness of the US working class (in large terms).
- Opposition to the US occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan must continue. The increased involvement of the US in Afghanistan represents a wrong-headed policy choice, particularly when viewed in the context of the overall instability in Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Increased US involvement in Afghanistan also involves increased involvement in Pakistan. Each drone attack by the USA in Pakistani territory increases the chances of a massive socio-political implosion. Indeed, this has come to pass. Pakistan is teetering as the Taliban take over more and more territory. The Taliban has been able to conquer new territory, not just because the Pakistani military is complicit, or because they are focused on India and Kashmir. The Taliban are succeeding in large part because the Pakistani government has neglected (through corruption and the domination by the rich) the rural poor. For years they have not built schools, dealt with the land question, or instituted health care and other social services. The Taliban has stepped in and provided something.
- That said, there is a particular significance for the USA of Palestine and Mexico.
- As the saying goes, the road to peace travels through Palestine. Insofar as the Palestinian situation is unresolved, it remains a powder keg for the Arab and Muslim worlds. Palestine is of tremendous symbolic importance and is the rallying cry for legitimate anti-imperialists as well as for charlatans looking for a mass base.
While the world recognizes the importance of resolving the Palestinian question, the USA remains adamant in supporting Israel. It is unclear to what extent the Obama administration will truly depart from this alliance. What is clear is that there is no developed and organized movement in the USA that puts Palestine front and center. There are formations, such as the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, but they lack the sort of social base that anti-Palestinian groups, e.g., AIPAC, possess. This remains a major challenge.
The Palestine Liberation Organization remains stuck. Much of the leadership role that it once possessed has been eclipsed by Hamas. While there are left and progressive forces in the PLO attempting to articulate a different path, they are weak and disunited. They also have spent precious little time attempting to build global solidarity, in contrast with other national liberation struggles such as the South Africans or the Central American movements, the latter in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Although the debate over the one-state vs. two-state solution is of importance, we in the USA should not focus most of our attention on this question. That is a matter that will fundamentally need to be addressed by the Palestinians. We need to be focused on the matter of US support for the Israeli Occupation and getting the Israeli government to end the Occupation.
Mexico has always been integral to US foreign policy going as far back as the US war of aggression against Mexico (1846-48). The USA, following the death of Benito Juarez in the 1870s, sought to turn Mexico into a neo-colony. The uncompleted Mexican Revolution (which began in 1911) put significant constraints on the US role in Mexico for a limited period of time, but certainly with the end of World War II, the USA spent a great deal of attention attempting to constrain the independence of Mexico.
The USA has relied on Mexican labor since the 19th century. Cross-border connections between Mexicans and the developing Chicano people sometimes resulted in common or overlapping organizations, e.g., labor unions.
Mexico, for many years beginning with their Revolution and into the 1970s, prided itself on a foreign policy independent of the USA. Mexico, for instance, refused to cave to the USA on the question of diplomatic relations with Cuba after the success of the July 26th Movement in 1959.
Despite the outer appearance of anti-imperialism, the Mexican regime under the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) became increasingly patriarchal and repressive. Unions and other mass organizations were either absorbed by the State or repressed. Massive repression took place in 1968 at the time of the Olympics.
By the early 1980s, even the appearance of anti-imperialism was gone. The Mexican financial collapse resulted in structural reforms and the virtual surrender of the Mexican state to the USA. It was, therefore, not a long distance between this surrender and NAFTA.
The eroding economic situation resulted in increased migration. A significant uptick in this took place with the advent of NAFTA, the impact of which included the destruction of much of Mexican agriculture and its public sector (as predicted by the Zapatistas, and other forces including some in the US).
Progressive and Left forces have been attempting to fight back. This has included the Cardenas presidential candidacy in 1988; the formation of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD); the Zapatistas; the Oaxaca Commune; and other struggles.
At the same time, we are witnessing a crisis in the Mexican state as drug cartels battle one another for control of lucrative markets and the extent of corruption within the State becomes blatantly obvious.
In this situation it is not impossible to imagine one or more civil wars unfolding as the State attempts to move against the cartels, while at the same time, progressive and Left forces fight back against the neo- liberal policies of the Calderon administration and their USA allies. It is no exaggeration to say that should they take place, either the collapse of the Mexican state or a civil war will send shockwaves north.
(20) The Left, globally, is both in relative disarray while at the same time experiencing evidence of renewal.
- The broad Left, by which we mean anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist forces, experienced the shock of the end of the Cold War followed by an upturn in what came to be known as the global justice movement. The global justice movement then ran into problems in the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 attacks, though a significant international anti-war movement did emerge.
- The broad Left is still very much affected by the crisis of socialism. This is in evidence in response to the current economic/environmental crisis. There have been international mobilizations against neo-liberal capital but these have not resulted in either socialist revolutions or necessarily explicitly Left-wing governments.
The important exception—to be discussed below—is Latin America.
- The “party Left” internationally is very uneven. The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) and the Communist Party of the Philippines, by way of examples, continue to lead broad mass struggles. The South African Communist Party, despite serious internal differences, remains a significant force in South African politics. New Left formations have emerged in Europe including in Norway and Germany, while in Italy the Refoundation Communist Party is attempting to rebuild. In Latin America, efforts at what is described as 21st century socialism have emerged in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, though not led by traditional Marxist parties. Nicaragua remains a question-mark despite the victory of the FSLN, and the recent victory in El Salvador of the FMLN is very promising, though the FMLN’s politics seem to have shifted in order to gain broader support.
- A characteristic of this moment has been organizational experimentation. One of the most interesting has been the example from Nepal where the Maoists led a guerrilla struggle and then chose to cease fire and enter into parliamentary struggle—which they have won (at least for now). The transformation of the Salvadoran FMLN from a front of organizations into a party is another example of this experimentation. But it also takes place at other levels. The creation of the South African publication Amandla! is noteworthy due to the fact that the SACP has permitted its members (including leading members) to engage in a public joint Left activity with non-SACP leftists.
- Another characteristic is that most serious revolutionary parties have given up the idea that there should be a single-party state. Whether through front- building, alliances, or other initiatives, many of the serious revolutionary Left forces are acknowledging that a radical, post-capitalist environment must leave open space for continued debate.
- In the Arab and Muslim world the party Left has suffered significant defeats. The Palestinian Left, one of the most outstanding for years, has—as noted earlier—largely been eclipsed by Hamas. Many of the sites of significant Left parties, e.g., Iraq, the Sudan, Iran, have witnessed dramatic repression over the last thirty years. In the absence of the radical Left, variants on Islamism have arisen as the principal form of resistance. In some cases this resistance is on the right, and other times it tends towards the Left. But the politics are very different from the nationalism that was characteristic of the 1945-1980 period, or the revolutionary Left politics of the same period.
- The social movement Left, in its various forms, continues to wield an important influence. Formations such as the World Social Forum continue to exert great appeal. Yet the social movement Left finds itself limited by the extent of its own self- definition. The Landless Workers Movement of Brazil, for example, one of the most outstanding formations of what can be described as the social movement Left, nevertheless needs the linkages that a party can bring. It exists in critical support of the Brazilian Workers Party (PT) and places a great deal of pressure on it. In the absence of such connections, however, the social movements generally, and the social movement Left in particular finds itself existing as a pressure group. The classic example of Argentina at the time of its economic collapse demonstrates the problem. There were intense left-led mass upsurges, including mobilizations of the unemployed, workplace takeovers, blockades, but what did not exist was a means—i.e. platform and organization—to transform this mobilization into a fight for political power.
- In the USA, the Left remains in disarray. The organizational Left and the social movement Left are less than the sum of their parts. On the positive side, the US Social Forum was a coming out party for the social movement Left. It was well done and very inspiring (in fact it inspired others in the World Social Forum movement). But as with the World Social Forum the challenge continues to be “what next?” The organizational Left is, for the most part, further behind the curve, though its members are often key elements in the social movements and the left-wings of the social movements. The organizational Left, however, lacks the capacity to serve as the linkage between the various social movements.
- The refoundation efforts undertaken by FRSO/OSCL have had in mixed results. On the one hand, the reputation of the organization remains high in terms of struggling to build unity (this includes building mass coalitions). Nevertheless skepticism and distrust continue to be components of the character of the US Left.
- No other unity or refoundation-like efforts have been particularly successful. For the most part, whether one is discussing the “Left” sectarians or the legitimate Left, most organizations are either treading water or attempting to build themselves; they are not focusing on a major Left realignment and the corresponding questions of organization. While this may change, it is the reality of the current moment and party-building efforts need to be considered in that context.
(21) Our tasks are potentially immense so that means that we need to focus on the niches that we can—that is, have the capacity—to occupy and where we can make a difference. We must keep in mind that we are not the party but are, instead, attempting to build one.
We must be encouraging resistance to the crisis: This does not mean simply fighting back, but it means constructing (and organizing around) counter- proposals to those that are being advanced by capital to address the crisis, e.g., the Left proposing nationalization of banks and of abandoned means of production (like auto plants) and the development of regional planning systems.
- Retooling the social movements: No one is in a position to gloat in the current situation. We are all searching for answers. Thus, this is a period in which there needs to be room to experiment. Whether in the cities with working people’s assemblies, or the organizing of the unemployed, or the occupation of abandoned homes or workplaces, this is a time to experiment in addressing the immediate impact of the crisis.
- Global solidarity: The fight against global capital must itself be global and local. International forums, including but not limited to the WSF, can become not only a place for exchanges of information but a site for the organizing of joint campaigns. Some of the labor-based forces that attended the 2009 Social Forum have been attempting to build such linkages. This can be more than informational networks and symbolic solidarity. We can learn from some of the more successful international efforts in history, including the South African anti-apartheid boycott campaign, or corporate campaigns carried out by labor unions across borders, and advance our international work. As we keep saying, the material basis for international working class solidarity is greater than at any time since the development of capitalism.
- Electoral politics: Electoral politics can become a means of both resistance as well as galvanizing a popular democratic bloc to advance significant structural reforms. Electoral politics cannot be relegated to those times when the masses gravitate to it spontaneously, but must be part of our overall strategy, both in terms of resistance, but also over the long-term. To the extent to which the masses of people believe that constitutional democracy works, we must find means of operating within it and pushing it to its limits.
- In the absence of a party, we have the task—along with others in the socialist Left—of giving primacy to the creation and advocacy of revolutionary theory. This must be linked to the task of party building. Party building for us must mean Left Refoundation, i.e., the rebuilding and reconstruction of a 21st century radical/socialist Left which has an organizational manifestation in the development of a party for socialism.
- Given the levels of distrust, as well as unevenness, the socialist Left must take steps towards the development of a party for socialism that includes the consideration of a socialist front. Such a front would not be a tactical alliance, but would be a formation that unites organizations and individuals committed to the struggle for socialism who can achieve a basic level of working unity. Such unity would aim at strengthening the presence of the Left in the social movements and giving the Left public visibility. Due to the conditions of electoral politics in the USA the proposed socialist front would not, however, be a front that participates, as the front, in electoral politics, though its members would do so as part of building a progressive realignment/popular democratic bloc.