Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Organizers of Actions or Organizers of People? Part I

There’s an adage in warfare that generals tend to fight the last war. The tactics and strategy that worked (or would have worked) the last time, they apply this time. The problem, of course, is that warfare changes. As do political situations. Our situation today differs substantially from the last time a mass movement ended the Vietnam War. In fact, our situation even differs from that of only four years ago when millions marched to try to prevent the Iraq War.

The basic strategy the movement is operating on is to call for demonstrations and to try to get as many people to come to these demonstrations as possible. The success of this strategy depends upon favorable (or at least decent) media attention to spread the movement and upon millions of people coming to the demonstrations through some combination of activists’ low-tech publicity methods and mass media coverage. The hope is that demonstrations will grow large enough and somewhere along the line public officials and mass media will be forced to respond – at the approximate point where publicly displayed public sentiment threatens to destabilize the system as a whole – by granting concessions to the mass struggle: end a war, force a president out of office, and so on. An implicit assumption of this strategy is that activists’ main role is to spread the word through such means as flyers and posters and the masses of people will respond to this form of organizing.

This strategy appeared to work during the 1960s. In actual fact, however, the dynamics of the 1960s were more complex than what the U.S. activists did and the movement strategy was actually part of a larger dynamic which had a definite international dimension to it, including the fact that the Vietnamese people were waging a heroic fight and eventually turned the tide and won the war and the fact that there was a high tide of struggle internationally against imperialism. What U.S. activists did was indispensable, but it wasn’t the only factor in play. Some of us were around in the 1960s and we remember this and we are trying to make the 60s happen once again. Except that so far it hasn’t happened. (It did reprise in important ways before the 2003 Iraq invasion: millions demonstrated against that war. But things have changed even since then.) And it’s getting awfully late.

There are not millions in the streets. There are not even hundreds of thousands. The numbers have dwindled to the tens of thousands despite the increasingly obvious steps towards yet a third war, this time on Iran, despite the increasingly obvious debacles that the first two wars have become, and despite the monstrous violations of law, of Constitutional guarantees, and of human rights, that the Bush Regime and its enablers have been increasingly openly committing.

There are really two questions that can be posed from the preceding: 1) Why has the level of resistance and outrage not found a larger expression? 2) Is it enough, given what we face in the Bush agenda, even if we were being successful in mobilizing much larger demonstrations? Would even this be enough to do what must be done?

First question first: why aren’t more people demonstrating against this regime?

The relatively low level of overt political resistance isn’t because there isn’t widespread sentiment against the Bush Regime. There are literally tens of millions who are utterly furious at the Bush agenda and at its purveyors and enablers. (Were the Bush cabal not being shielded by the political/media establishment, they would be the objects of widespread scorn and outrage, labeled as war criminals and torturers, anti-rationalist extremists and freaks, and would likely need to flee for their lives from this country and seek refuge in some non-extraditable country.) Bush and Cheney do have, it should be pointed out, a social base; roughly 20 percent or so of the population still support them. Within this quintile exists a hard-core of people who would welcome fascist rule with or without a Christian patina. They don’t appreciate dissent and would prefer authoritarianism and simple answers to questions. Most of these people would gladly trade the Bill of Rights for the phantasm of “security” - as long as they could keep their precious 2nd Amendment!

The tens of millions who make up a hard core of support for driving Bush and Cheney from office and repudiating what they stand for are in turn part of a large majority of approximately 70% of the American people – around 210 million - who want the war on Iraq to end, and who disapprove of Bush and Cheney. A majority in this country wants to see Bush and Cheney gone already.

What is holding back these tens of millions from acting in overt ways and representing through their manifest actions the large majority in this country? Why aren’t there hundreds of thousands, let alone, millions demonstrating?

The short answer to this question is that the unanimity of the political establishment and that of the corporate media against holding Bush and Cheney accountable, against ending the Iraq War, and for the increasingly openly fascistic program that includes Big Brother, torture, and illegal, immoral wars of imperialist conquest, are what are blocking the majority sentiment from being openly expressed. As the repressive measures (indefinite detentions, abrogation of due process, putting people on watch lists, firing dissident professors, and covert executions of dissident soldiers) increase, fear of the state and the fanatical extremist right is becoming a real factor. This latter element in the picture will grow as the Bush Regime and the U.S. government become more naked about their real agenda. Deception will be increasingly eclipsed by ruthless intimidation and force. Deception will not go away but the relative proportions of the deception/coercion-terror for exercising social control and their rule is shifting.

To uncork this genie from the bottle, to release the majority sentiment against these moral monstrosities, to turn this into a two-sided fight rather than a one-sided one, requires nothing less than that the movement create a competing, legitimate authority. I use the term fight here deliberately. It’s going to get, in fact, it’s already getting, ugly, nooses being hung to try to terrorize blacks is just one of the most blatant signs of this and the assassination of dissident soldiers (Pat Tillman being the most notable) another.

Our task is much greater than adopting the tactics of the old paradigm of mainly depending upon and calling for demonstrations in the streets. To be blunt: even if the old paradigm were to work (it’s not and it won’t) and we did get a couple million in the streets tomorrow, without a competing moral and political leadership to lead this forward beyond one or a few demonstrations, do you really think that we would see the dramatic, really historic and momentous, changes that need to occur? We’re talking here, after all, about a sharp reversal of a Mack Truck with a full load that’s barreling down the road at 100 miles an hour. We’re talking about executing a 180-degree skidding turn. We’re talking about a system that has been systematically dismantling the New Deal, building the neoliberal state, and is determinedly trying to bring into being a situation where international law and multilateralism are things of the past, where might makes right and that might emanates unapologetically from the good ole U.S.A. Bush and Cheney are merely the logical extension and continuation of the policies that began under Reagan and were carried forward a little more slowly under Clinton.

Do you think that big demonstrations will accomplish the reversal of all of this? Note that the reversal of this process that’s been underway for more than three and a half decades (in the most proximate sense) must include the dramatic repudiation of the GOP as a whole, the entire leadership of the Democratic Party, and the stenographers to power role played by the corporate media. Something this far-reaching and drastic cannot possibly occur absent a more generalized and deeper transformation of the balance of political forces on the day-to-day level. Can we imagine this happening without a much stronger understanding by the people at the grassroots and without their coming forward to grapple with the extremely dangerous and complicated situation that we collectively face? Can we imagine that a handful of people will be able to accomplish this gigantic task? Can we imagine even millions of people doing this without their stepping forward to be political organizers themselves in varying degrees?

What’s Holding People Back?

What is keeping people from expressing their sentiments in a visible way is a combination of factors. The most important one by far – as I indicated earlier - is the uniform opposition to it from policy-makers and media: both the GOP and the Democratic Party leadership are on board and are actively colluding with each other. The Democratic Party leadership isn’t doing this out of ignorance. They aren’t doing this because they are cowards. They are doing this because they are in agreement with the basic tenets of the GOP program. They are, after all, the other major party in the one imperialist superpower. (And that, by the way, is part of the point. We are no longer a world with two superpowers. There is no socialist camp that the U.S. imperialists have to contend with and compete against for the allegiance of the Third World. The unipolar nature of the post-1980s’ world dictates that the two major parties in this country are going to be uniformly bad and surpassingly uninterested in what their constituents and the people think.)

Even if there is an election in 2008 and even if a Democrat wins that election and even if the official vote tallies recognize their victory and even if a Democrat moves into the White House in 2009 (none of these things are sure things), this Bush program will not be reversed in any substantial and significant way.

This is already crystal clear to anyone paying a bit of attention and not blinded by his or her outmoded belief that the system they thought existed still exists. The Democratic majority in Congress has not challenged the precedents that Bush and Cheney have established. The Bush Regime’s egregious acts and policies have not even been spoken of, let alone opposed, by the leading Democratic candidates. People broadly in this society need to wake up to this terrible and shocking fact. There will be no saviors from the Democratic Party. Dennis Kucinich’s stands are obviously at variance with his party’s leadership, and that is precisely why he isn’t getting any decent coverage. Even Howard Dean was considered too outré for the presidency by the DLC back in 2004!

What else is holding the people back?

• Intimidation. Fear. An awareness that the people in power today are ruthless and monstrous. (Witness Andrew Meyer.)

• A mistaken sense that those who oppose what Bush and Cheney represent are in a minority.

• Lack of awareness of the full dimensions of what is afoot. People mostly know that there were torture pictures coming out of Abu Ghraib when the scandal first broke, but there hasn’t been any real truth in mainstream outlets to come out about it since (or about the rest of their horrid deeds) and it’s not in people’s faces all of the time. If it were in people’s faces all the time, or even more of the time, the political situation would be very different. Exposés of what they are doing are a critical part of what we must do.

• A widespread sense that there is nothing that people can do that will make a difference. This is related to, though not exclusively due to, the fact that this is America. Governments in other countries are afraid of the people. In America the people are afraid of the government. It is also due to the fact that in the last few election cycles, people have come out in large numbers to repudiate Bush and Cheney and look what good that’s done!

• Our own failure as activists to break with the old paradigm.

Breaking with the Old Paradigm, Embracing the New

We are facing an unprecedented situation. Do we really think that we can overcome the obstacles in this situation without bringing to bear unprecedented analyses and practices? Do we really believe that we could take the toolkit from the past and merely apply those tools to the present situation without making a “concrete analysis of concrete conditions?” We need to make a leap analytically and methodologically if we’re to have a chance. Demonstrations and political work as usual won’t and isn’t going to cut it.

The same reason why the broad masses of people don’t recognize that it would make a big difference if they started to act politically by taking a public stand against this regime and its monstrous program, the same challenge that this stepping into the new and unknown for them represents, is the very same kind of thinking that is holding back our own activist ranks from recognizing that we must do something that is equally uncomfortable: move from being demonstrators and organizers of actions to being organizers of the people.

Part 2 of this essay is continued here.

No comments: