Nontraditional Unionism (part 2)

Though we outlined the local stage in great detail in Part 1, let us start with a quick review. First, you have identified, joined, created or coalesced a group of progressives and socialists organized around a particular population (we have assumed these are tenants, the houseless, or incarcerated people). Second, this group has been guided towards “solidarity” organizing, doing mutual aid, advocacy and protests as necessary but has focused on not just incorporating the affected population into your work but in organizing this population for themselves, so they are elevated from tokens and representatives that may be co-opted into leaders of their own communal struggle, with their own “union” organizations. Finally, the solidarity group and the union(s) it has organized have a strong, cooperative relationship based on mutual respect, where the union can begin to lead itself but the more seasoned organizers of the solidarity group still provide guidance and push back against reactionary tendencies that may flare up.

The next stages of the struggle must necessarily be spoken of more broadly. These stages will be shaped by the successes and setbacks of previous stages, the specific organizational decisions made and forms chosen, and on the subjective class and political consciousness of the masses, the unions, the solidarity organizations, and the elements of leadership of each of these.

This is not to say that we can make no plans; indeed, we must make thorough plans if we are to succeed. We merely point out that plans for these stages must be flexible and dynamic, responsive to specific developing conditions and not static or dogmatic, and must be constantly reanalyzed as we approach them to bring them in line with the conditions as they change – and as we change them.

We must also avoid the trap of assuming that these stages are discrete, that each group will pass cleanly from one stage to the next. At all times, local stage activity will be relevant as tenant solidarity groups organize more and more buildings into unions, prison solidarity groups expand their contacts inside or make contacts in other nearby prisons and jails, and houseless solidarity groups continue working to meet the needs of their union and non-union houseless populations and bring the latter into the former.

It may be that some groups see an opportunity to begin connecting stage organizing relatively quickly, perhaps even prematurely by our prescription, while others take longer to enter into the connecting stage. Adapt the plan to your organizational needs and conditions while maintaining the core focus on unionization and solidarity over advocacy.

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Notes Towards the Re-Rioting of Pride

As Pride month draws to a close, I think about all the “first pride was a riot” t-shirts I have seen this June. The shirts and the slogan have now become an early summer tradition of the US left, alongside rediscovering Juneteenth, the sharing of Frederick Douglass’s speech on July 4th, and commenting on how as hot as this summer is, they will become literally unbearably hot if we do not actually overthrow capitalism and imperialism.

Tradition is not always bad. We have our own traditions. The aforementioned slogan is certainly a good one. The referenced rioting is even better.

But in many locations across the US, including in some of the most densely populated coastal cities with a disproportionate share of the queer-and-out working class, one does not feel the riotous energy. Pride month often has, despite the apparently popular wishes to the contrary, the energy of an officially mandated period of relative tolerance for queer summer fun.

Obviously, no one can be individually blamed for not simply declaring, launching, willing a riot into existence. If we could do this, we would do it constantly and with great enthusiasm, an enthusiasm with a popular basis easily observed at the outbreak of actual spontaneous riots, in which to this day queer youth play a visible and considerable role, often confronting those same cops face to face in spite of the latter’s heavy weaponry, legal sanction to use force, and de facto guarantee of getting away with “excessive” use thereof.

Debates rage over the inclusion of cops in parades, but even where the debate is settled for the anti-cop side, uniformed cops at any rate are frequently seen around and walking through pride events without direct challenge, only with the scornful gaze of participants.

But there is a problem here: queerness is understood (rightly) as an axis of oppression and accordingly a potential focal point of organizing, young queer people are increasingly politically radical and conscious about diverse issues, and yet queer political agitation and organization is surprisingly reserved in the US at present.

Behind this lie several interconnected objective and subjective factors, which I am briefly outlining my thoughts on per request by comrades, a modest set of notes towards further discussion and action.

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Juneteenth and Its Place in Revolutionary Politics

In a few days, Juneteenth will be upon us. At first glance, this holiday may appear to be of little concern or political significance. But in actuality, this holiday is one of the most crucial dates on the calendar of revolutionary socialists in the United States, and we must understand why.

What is Juneteenth? What does it mean and why is this a question worthy of exploration? 

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Crown Him with Many Crowns: Dominion Theology in the United States

Over the second half of the twentieth century, Evangelical Protestantism has been transformed from an insular world-denying religious movement into a powerful political movement currently ascendant within the Republican Party and within the federal judiciary. Dominion Theology, or Dominionism, is a movement dating to the beginning of the 1980s which is based around the view that certain forms of Christianity must dominate society and the state. Early forms of Dominionism were tied to Christian Reconstructionism, a theocratic ideology in which much of Jewish Mosaic Law would be enforced by the state. As it is practiced today, however, it is more simply the theocratic politicization of Evangelical Fundamentalist Reformed Protestant Christianity.

This goal of Christian dominance of US and ultimately global society has multifarious particular instantiations. It is described (originally by Pentecostals, including by Trump-aligned Pentecostal pastor Paula White) in terms of seven “mountains”: religion, economics, media, entertainment, (the previous two are merged in this essay, and are mostly worth distinguishing to preserve the religiously-important number seven), education, family and government.

RELIGION

Evangelicalism dates back to the First Great Awakening of the mid-18th century. Oddly enough from today’s perspective, it is not in itself necessarily a political movement. One of its tenets is called “activism” but this was not historically a term referring to political activity. In fact, many of those most fervently supportive of the United States’ constitutional secularism could be categorized as Evangelical. This activism carried in itself, however, the potential to negate the movement’s staid quietism.

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Why are the “Patriotic Socialists” Wrong?

Recently, a new ideological tendency has tried to gain inroads among the U.S. left. Calling themselves “Patriotic Socialists” and gathering mainly online around a handful of Twitch streamers and YouTubers, this small but irritating tendency has made themselves the frequent subject of leftist discourse. They are defined by an insistence that one must be an American patriot to be a communist, and argue that to be in any way critical of American patriotism is to be somehow “anti-proletarian.”

Despite their frequent streams and posts, this trend is not especially strong or influential, not in terms of actual organization of masses or attempts to penetrate the existing organized left. Indeed, the “Patsocs” are mainly known through social media where they are regularly mocked and ridiculed by rival leftists of diverse ideological commitments, and themselves mainly repeat the mantra that you need to be patriotic to reach “ordinary people”.

Of course we can say here that many people who are not organizationally or intellectually committed to Marxism or socialism as such, “ordinary people” so to speak, are already very critical of US patriotism. Conversely, even the less advanced sections of the masses are to be organized and indoctrinated by Marxists in order to change, develop, and advance. Our aim is to make them more revolutionary, and for reasons that don’t need repeating to almost everyone reading this, the retrograde politics of the US “Patriotic Socialists” are not the direction we need to go.

When even the arch-opportunist CPUSA can take a firm line against you for being chauvinistic and pro-state, clearly you are beyond the pale of the left.

Why discuss them then? Certainly not to engage them in debate: they are basically an in-group cult that repeats the same vague truisms ad nauseum and are developing a Trump-esque worldview where complex conspiracies allow the reactionary things they support and cheerlead to somehow serve a grand plan that will somehow bring “socialism” to the US. I personally advocate that they be blocked and ignored, unless you happen to have a real social connection to some unfortunate soul who is partially in their orbit.

I had initially not wanted to see them discussed further myself, but I did find some weakness in much of the responses by well-intentioned leftists to the “Patriotic Socialists”, principally focusing on the name as a problem, either in and of itself or due to its similarity to “National Socialists”. The basic issue I take with this critique is that, while it is true that socialism is its own goal over and above nationalism and patriotism which are often impediments to that goal, this focus on the name both buries the real problems for the application of the name in context, on the one hand, and the ways in which similar terminology, in other contexts, is significantly less problematic. I will deal with these separately and in brief.

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Statement on the Buffalo Massacre

This past weekend, a white nationalist terrorist carried out a massacre in Buffalo, New York. The killer’s own published manifesto makes crystal clear the genocidal zeal and demographic panic induced fanaticism which motivated this base act of public murder, which he live-streamed so as to strike fear into the targets of his hate and for the amusement and inspiration of other thugs like himself.

The manifesto’s obsession with the white nationalist “great replacement” theory is particularly disturbing in its timing with the impending Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, as while believers in this theory rejoice at their chance to turn everyone they understand as a “fertile white woman” into a baby factory for their deranged racialist worldview, fascist militias are stepping up deadly attacks on groups they consider “racial enemies” with the same underlying motive. Biden’s election, much touted as an antidote to the fascist trends encouraged by Trump and those close to him, has self-evidently not changed their goals or means or confidence in pursuing both.

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Abortion, the Supreme Court and the Socialist Movement

On the evening of May 2nd, POLITICO published a shocking leak of a draft majority opinion of the Supreme Court in the upcoming case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, showing the court poised to strike down their previous ruling in the famous 1973 Roe v. Wade case that abortion was constitutionally protected at the federal level. The news is infuriating, a triumph decades in the making for the reactionary Evangelical anti-abortion movement, and a terrible blow to women everywhere who already fight daily against all manner of assaults against their bodily autonomy, but the unplanned and premature manner in which this news was delivered is most welcome indeed, for it has given movements and the masses something that has previously not been present at the top level of judiciary politics: space and time, however limited, to act.

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The Ukrainian Crisis and the Imperialist World System

The entire US left is reacting to the shocking invasion of Ukraine by Russia. The reactions are varied and reflect a vigorous discourse which we are pleased to see includes many positions not constrained by Cold War biases and “campism”. There is a broad consensus that Russia’s behavior, no matter the pretext, went far over the line, as is the view of many Russians who identify with the communist movement, even many we might analyze as right opportunist.

Unfortunately, not all on the US left are able to take a similarly circumspect position of condemnation of US imperialism, which has been and remains the most powerful imperialist center in military and economic terms alike. We have witnessed prominent representatives of the left call for sanctions against Russia, which would have an escalating effect, when as purported socialists and internationalists their immediate practical duty should to call for the disbanding of NATO and other actions that would have a deescalating effect.

In the midst of the practical discussion, there is also a theoretical discussion over whether Russia today qualifies as an “imperialist country”. In general, the trend is for those who advocate sanctions against Russia to assert that it is, so as to position Russia and the US on equal footing. For those who take a revolutionary defeatist stance on US imperialism, there is also a trend to assert that Russia is not an imperialist country, which naturally is partially motivated by a need to provide extra theoretical justification beyond revolutionary defeatism for opposing US escalation.

We have already said that many of the latter category none the less correctly join their Russian comrades in condemning Putin’s aggression, and we of course emphasize that it is not only wars carried out directly by imperialist centers which we condemn, but all wars except wars of defense and liberation on behalf of the poor and oppressed, which in fact serve to secure real and sustainable peace.

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Nontraditional Unionism (part 1)

by Kurt Marlin

The communist movement in the United States faces no shortage of problems, but in recent years the most glaring is a lack of vision. Many left tendencies have big dreams and no qualms articulating them, but then engage in practices wildly insufficient to the world-historic tasks they claim to work toward. The theoretical connection between houseless mutual aid or tenant organizing and the mythical “revolution” or “general strike” is often no more substantive than the link between dream and waking. We cough up short term plans when we need to, for a particular campaign or movement, but long or even medium term plans resemble the get rich quick schemes we shun more than a coherent, practicable strategy that can be carried out to advance the struggle for liberation.

Many communists see this deficiency but, in a classic error of sectarianism, they too often respond with broad criticisms of the tactics or practices being employed rather than concrete criticisms of ways to do it better. Some of these so-called communists stand aloof and criticize mutual aid as “red charity” that will never lead to working class power, which fortunately shields them from ever organizing an event that puts them at risk of speaking to a worker. Others offer up the same criticisms while dutifully doing the work they criticize as not “revolutionary” enough or saying it can only be done by joining their “vanguard” with its very real authentic mass base. This leaves the masses unlucky enough to be in contact with them with the impression that communists are nothing but scolds and haters. At least the anarchists have a utopian dream; all the communists do is whine about how it’ll never work.

If any of these vanguards do truly have a road map for their political practice, they don’t do much to share it beyond the confines of their own group. Some of these are small and local enough that the apparent lack of strategy can almost be excused, but others are big enough that they must either be hiding their strategy’s deficiencies from criticism or, worse, have none, moving forward with whatever they have been doing without attempting to educate their members on the importance of understanding the struggle in its totality and working consciously toward a real goal along a solid path. This latter issue is certainly the problem for smaller formations. The general rule for this kind of organizing has been:

To work half-heartedly without a definite plan or direction; to work perfunctorily and muddle along–“So long as one remains a monk, one goes on tolling the bell.” This is a ninth type.

Mao Tse-Tung, Combat Liberalism

We speak here from a position of guilt: much of our own practical work has involved this vague sort of popular but uncritical mutual aid, or aimlessly pushing forward community organizing projects similar to what we see in other places but largely disconnected from them. We have struggled to “do the work” and we have struggled to promote an anti-revisionist communist theoretical line, but rarely do we manage to combine the two. Far easier, more comfortable, to muddle along, than to truly stare the behemoth of capital in the face and dare to struggle and defeat it, to formulate a clear, concrete, present day plan for victory and subject it to the ordeal of scientific testing in the laboratory of social practice.

Enough! We have seen a million calls for unity with no substance, for action with no thought, and a million more criticisms of the same. Developing a long term strategy for the final victory over global capitalism-imperialism requires a revolutionary vanguard party, a real one and not a cliquish pretender to the name, but we will not develop this vanguard via short term activist campaigns and endless coalitions. Only by concretely organizing among the masses with a clear, successful and articulated strategy for the medium term will we achieve this goal.

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Fascism in the Contemporary US: Definition and Action

For the past four years, ever since the rise of Trump, political analysis and popular discourse in the United States has been consumed with the question of fascism. Is Trump a fascist? Is the US becoming a fascist state? Has it always been a fascist state? How do we fight fascism? What does fascism even mean? These burning questions, which have been hotly debated everywhere from the most Marxist to the most liberal circles, deserve critical discussion. What follows is our small contribution to this vital debate.

What is fascism?

The original rise of fascism in the inter-war period, first with Mussolini’s movement in Italy and later most notably with Nazism in Germany, prompted a series of debates among the radical left as the socialist and workers’ movements tried to define and contend with this new enemy. The Communist International (Comintern) played a leading role in this debate. The German communist Clara Zetkin and Bulgarian communist Georgi Dimitrov put forward two separate but interlocking analyses, which we take as our starting point.

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