Dump Capitalism 5: you get what you organize
Why no posts from me for so long? First, my wife and I have moved to Florida, dictated by its lower cost of living and my no longer being willing to be housebound by ice and snow.
More importantly, my Dump Capitalism diaries developed a certain perspective on organizational questions, and I believe the Occupy movement / organization embodies that perspective to as great a degree as one could hope for. Occupy as an organized force faces serious issues, both tactical and strategic. Their resolution must be concrete, not abstract, and I lack the standing or closeness on the ground to deign to advice them. In fact, I consider their resistance to advice to be one of their strengths. I trust them. However …
Occupy as a Movement
A few words, if I might do a little bit of catching up. The question remains as to how progressives relate to the Occupy movement. A favorite sport in progressive circles has been to pontificate on what Occupy should now do. I would rather not indulge in that. The pertinent question is, what should WE do?
As a movement, Occupy has sent shock waves far and wide, transforming the dialogue, impacting our very language. Some have rightly commented on the villainy of groups like MoveOn to seize the Occupy brand, to channel it into getting Obama re-elected, for instance. But the flip side is that MoveOn, for instance, has also been impacted, some of its mass membership radicalized (the price of being a mass organization). MoveOn has even lent Occupy a modicum of actual support.
When Occupy first struck, the country was slightly but significantly destabilized. The state has moved to violently uproot it, and a new equilibrium has been achieved. But things are not the same in that new state of equilibrium. A system that rules through a high level of consensus is capitalism’s system of choice. To the degree that a system rules through brute force, it becomes brittle, unwieldy, inefficient, more vulnerable. Despite the facade of greater strength! “The security of this nation depends on total compliance!” as the villain in “V for Vendetta” rants. A costly bar to attempt, impossible to achieve.
As a movement, Occupy has “lifted all boats.” A more and angry and FOCUSED public creates opportunity for all progressives, from the most depraved to the most revolutionary. You want to elect more progressives to Congress? Do it. Organize it. But I say, YOU do it, don’t think you can get Occupy to do it for you.
You want to take to the streets? Do it.
You want to lobby Congress? Do it.
You want to write a revolutionary program? Do it.
You want to fight for concrete reforms? Do it.
Get my drift? And if you want to build an independent 3rd party, Green or otherwise … here I reach for my can opener.
My perspective for the last few years, from the Full Court Press to Dump Obama, has been to utilize the Democratic Party primaries to build an independent base within the Democratic Party, which could then be organized to support an independent party once the Democratic Party slammed the door in their face. I have to say that the attempt to work the primaries, at least as I envisioned it, has failed. That loud crash you hear is the sound of that door unmistakably and unequivocally slamming.
So what is a poor boy to do (except to play in a rock and roll band)?
Go independent! But what does that really mean? Allow me what might appear to be a substantial digression, further to the organizational questions this Dump Capitalism series has tried to address.
All political questions should ultimately turn on the question of how progressives can exert power? Create change?
Unions, for instance, can use their location in the workplace to shut down the means of production. Even now. Electoral organizations can elect candidates or, at a lesser level, threaten to elect candidates, or at the least shave off the margins of other candidates, which at least constitutes the threat of actual power.
Occupy has already exerted some power. I find it a fascinating question how Occupy’s seemingly puny efforts have done so much more than the millions who have been bussed to DC for any number of good causes. Of course, there’s the obvious answer that Occupy has to date avoided the death trap of the Democratic Party which absorbs any progressive energy. But more fundamentally, they have the potential to mobilize the anti-capitalist rage of the 99% not yet expressed.
The key word is POTENTIAL. Yes, there are situations like the Bolshevik Revolution where hardened agents seize the railroads and telegraph stations, etc. But by and large, power is exerted not as an absolute static force, but as the potential to exert direct force, however many steps removed, and however updated to the current century. One of the most frustrating aspects of the current political scene is that the potential for independent politics is tremendous, but the actual organizing towards that end is utterly miniscule by comparison. (Yes, you can point out all the independent political organizing going on, in an absolute sense, and beat your chest, but the disparity BY COMPARISON with potential is mind-boggling.)
You get what you organize
So, on with my digression. Distinct from the various approaches to exerting power is the fetishization of program, a deviation embraced — on the progressive front — from the most ultra-revolutionary Trotskyists (or is that Trotskyites? we could quarrel over that!) to the most sycophantic reformists and/or Obamacrats.
Their common mode is to unite around a set of demands, whether embodied in revolutionary slogans or seemingly practical reforms (arm the workers or reform the tax code, whatever). They then set out to unite with groups with similar programs, either by forming coalitions or fusing their memberships, or recruiting each other’s members through factional debate. Or simply by building up their mailing lists. They can then use their purported numbers to influence others through financial support, letter-writing campaigns, phone calls, or politely orchestrated demonstrations. Thus the super-Trot Spartacist League and MoveOn are not so very different.
This is a very different mode of organization from actually running an effective electoral campaign. Yes, an electoral campaign may feature a program or platform or a small set of demands. But there is the actual knocking on doors, calls to voters (not to other politicians), putting up the yard signs, staffing with poll watchers, getting out the vote, which requires real volunteers and staff doing real work in a systematic way. Unfortunately, there are so-called campaigns where the mere existence of the correct platform is considered sufficient to induce the masses to rise up, but …
New Progressive Alliance — a case study
Another look at the NPA is instructive. I may seem to pick on them, but in fact I consider them one of the better and more interesting attempts to create a new organization out of the blogosphere, FDL in particular, and thus worthy of analysis.
The NPA emerged in response to the call to Dump (primary) Obama, with a candidate selection process, and a tentative platform billed as priorities. But none of the NPA’s favored candidates ever stepped into the ring, nor did any other until the time for serious ballot access had about run out. In hindsight, the NPA should have entered one of its own, but this could not have happened as it developed.
First, the NPA incorporated itself so that it was not legally possible. Yet the membership also chose not to set up a separate electoral entity which could have done so. Rather, it spent the months following its founding developing the Unified Progressive Platform (UPP). Now, I consider this a very good platform, reflecting a lot of excellent work. But when Aldous Tyler committed to running in the Dem primaries on the NPA’s own UPP, it did not support him, and I learned that the NPA’s own internal process prevented it from actually endorsing him, even if it wanted to, until well into December. When it finally endorsed Rocky Anderson in the primaries, the NPA was unable to even fully mobilize its forces to actively campaign.
I am not terribly critical of that. You can’t do what you can’t do. My point is that an organization organized primarily around programmatics gets a membership organized around programmatics. That is not readily translated into actual campaign activity.
As Kermit said, it’s not easy being Green!
As I said above, going back to independent electoral politics, the disparity between the potential for independent politics and its actualization is immense. Much has been said about the Greens, pro and con. My starting premise is that they have the best independent game in town. Inadequate, in my judgment, but nonetheless the best independent game in town. How is that disparity to be engaged?
For now, I’d like more feedback on the Greens from FDL readers, pro and con. I have more to say, but let’s start there.