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.
(2)With regard to the economic the common joke about (and among) the Left is that we have predicted 10 of the lasts 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 it necessitates consciousness and organization of the oppressed. Otherwise there is a reorganization of capitalism but on different terms.
(3)The current economic crisis, what 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 the crisis of overproduction and a crisis brought on by financial speculation (the so-called casino economy). [Note: see our statement on the crisis].
(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 theideology 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 o Seas are being fished out, leading to both intended and unintended consequences. For example, today’s Somali pirates were for the most part fisherman 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 M-L thinking around “the development of productive forces” that has fueled both the growth imperative and consumerism.
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.
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.
- 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 even 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 [note: 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 doing this 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 & 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 (uni-lateralism of the Bush years). The Obama administration’s return to multi-lateralism 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 multi-lateralist 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.
- So-called market fundamentalism is over.
- Finance capital should remain hegemonic over other aspects of capital (e.g., manufacturing).
- Free trade must prevail.
- The State is essential to preserve the system.
- The “Washington Consensus,” ushered in under Clinton, is over. [Note: meaning that although the USA State may remain the State of the empire, US hegemony over globalization is being challenged.]
(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 African, 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 Alternative for Latin America) 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.
- In this situation the post-Cold War phenomenon of war-lordism continues to expand. Some of the worst cases can be found in Africa, e.g., Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but one could also look at states such as Burma/Myanmar that in many ways resemble war lord-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.
- 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 head-light 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).
- Black-led electoral upsurge of the early to mid1980s
- Anti-apartheid support movement
- Immigrant rights movement.
(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 allusive. 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 mid1970s. 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 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 (note: “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 straight jackets. So even though they are capable of large-scale mobilizations, like other progressive social movements, 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.
- 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 & 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 Chicano 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.1[Footnote 1: 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 so 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 & 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.