americanmarxistmonthlyreview

develope a unique marxism for america

THE NEW AMERICAN MARXIST REVIEW

A REVOLUTIONARY CLASS ANALYSIS OF AMERICA FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

Using the basic Marxist point of view that class is defined as, “your relationship to the means of production”, let me begin by identifying the “means of production”.  In the 20th century, we defined them as literally the factories and office buildings we worked in, and this is still basically true.  For the longest time we’ve assumed that a family or a few major shareholders were the owner’s, or Ruling Class (RC).  We thought like this because we were using Karl Marx’s point of view, from the 19th century, to define a 20th century reality.  Now, in the 21st century am I still going to use this 19th century thinking?  Not without a few updates to the basic definitions of Marxism.  Beyond just the new definition of Means of Production, we need to redefine the Middle Class as collaborators or our allies.  We also want to broaden the definition of Working Class to reflect the fact that class is defined by how you make your money, and not about how much money you make.

In the new reality of the 21st century economies, known as the Global Economy, I have to broaden my definition of Means of Production to reflect the new economic relationship the “free-trade” policies of many of the world’s emerging economies are forging.  Entities like Global Value Funds, Merger and Acquisition Funds, Hedge Funds, Real Estate Investment Trust, Mortgage Derivatives and just a host of “new” financial products and services that even Marx never dreamed of are causing consolidation on a global scale.  It’s not just the owner of the McDonald’s that you have to bargain with, it’s also the “shareholders” you have to contend with.  They want to increase their shareholder value, at all cost.  They are the driving force behind many a CEO’s (middle class collaborators) drive to lower cost by layoffs and benefit cuts.

These shareholders are these Funds, Billionaire Speculators, Holding Companies, Banks and other financial vehicles that channel the wealth from multiple economies into the next wave of global mergers and acquisitions.  Every time we negotiate a contract or demand any kind of benefits we are preventing them from increasing shareholder value or dividends or profit or excess value or whatever you want to call it.  In the global economy your paycheck might be shrinking to support the profits of a company in France, England, Saudi Arabia or one of the major banks here in the US that we just helped with a taxpayer bailout.

Even China is a shareholder in the global economy.  They’ve put their global revolution for Socialism on hold so they can become a player in the global stock market.  I’ll bet you Marx never saw that coming, a Socialist economy and a Capitalist one are trading partners?  They also share a Ruling Class relationship in their use of the stock market to extract excess value from the global economies.

It is a monumental task to attack these kinds of forces.  It’s impossible to stop these mergers and the influence they have on pricing are going to exact heavy tolls on all our lives.  We’ve never needed international solidarity more than we do now.  We also need broad based class solidarity within our own society.  Just because someone is making more money than you doesn’t mean it is okay if they get their wages or benefits cut.  None of us needs to be going backwards in our wages or buying power while these global entities are raking in trillions in profits.

We need to clearly define the needs of working class people to determine if either of the two political parties represents those interests.  Then, we need to talk about how we can build our solidarity into an effective defense against global capitalism.

The Issues, as I see them, are pretty straight forward.  As long as there is even 0.1% unemployment we will need to tax the richest people on the globe, to provide a “social” safety net for them and the retirees, the disabled, businesses that go bankrupt, disaster victims, environmental disasters, etc.  Labor law reform is another area that needs legislative attention.  Trade union democracy has been neglected for way too long.  Not to mention civil rights, gay rights, women’s rights, tenants’ rights and affordable rents, mortgages and healthcare.  I usually put them into two main categories, Economic issues and Social issues.

Economic issues are defined by my Marxist analysis, my relationship to the means of production and the issues that affect us, directly.  The job market, a strong economy, labor laws and the strength of unions are the foundation upon which Marxists organize around because labor is the heartbeat of the economy, labor is the main contradiction.  It is the strongest influence we have in the economy and it must be organized so its representatives can act as the political voice of the working class.  But labor must have its allies and for them we need a separate Labor Party (LP) structure to bring together all the Social issue organizations with all the Economic issue organizations.  From this national unity we can achieve international solidarity, eventually.

When it comes to which of the two, present day political parties, the Democrats or the Republicans, represents these issues best, it’s the Democrats, hands down.  But do the Democrats cover all the issues, equally?  The answer is no.  Now that the global economy is here, they are doing less and less for us and more against us.  We are bailing Capitalists out of one blunder after another and yet big business is taking more and more of their “taxable” profits, overseas.  The Stock Market is getting lower taxes and less regulation, while a Democrat sits in the White House and he wants to “fast track” a new “fair trade” agreement.  After NAFTA, we just can’t trust them.  Clearly the need for a better, stronger and more controllable political party is obvious.

Among the middle class there are allies and collaborators who must be identified and dealt with accordingly.  By middle-class I mean people who hire and fire workers, either in a small business or a large corporation.  Most of the time the issues will tell us who’s an ally and who is not.  Depending on their own self-interest, small and large businesses and other middle class professionals, will often be at odds over tax issues, labor issues, healthcare, gay rights, etc.  Within these contexts, we will give Democrats, the liberal wing of capitalism, our support and they will be our ally on an issue by issue basis.  The collaborators and apologists for big business and global capital, the Republicans, will be treated with the same distain as the Ruling-class.

The Ruling-class is quite a new enemy since globalization has occurred.  Corporate headquarters could be located anywhere on earth, literally.  More than just a family name or a corporation, we are now dealing with global empires and trillion-dollar funds that are merging and acquiring companies on a faster and larger scale than ever before.  Manipulating large swath of the economy at will, these “global investors” are using every known trick to pit one low wage country against the other in the never ending search for “increased investor value.”  They treat factories and workers like disposable razors as they search the globe for lower and lower paid workers.  First Mexico, then India, then Cambodia and now China and who knows who will be next.  When one country gets organized they sell their stock and invest in another low wage country.  What they used to do between America’s northern and southern workers, they now do on a global scale between the “new emerging economies” and the industrialized nations.

But before we can have a Labor Party we need a strong American Marxist Party (AMP).  One that has a strong base within the working class from which to lead, in the formation of a broad based labor-community alliance. It is an important first step in grounding a national organization in a strong union base that will be used as a platform for building working class political power.  A national network of community based, labor organizing committees will solidify and legitimize our claim to be the true third party in American politics.

In true Marxist style, membership will be defined by your “relationship to the means of production.”  This means that if you sell your labor, your skills or your intellectual property to someone else for a wage or salary, you may be eligible to join the AMP.  If you hire and fire anyone as part of your job, then you would not be eligible for membership, as you are a middle class employee.

The primary work of members is to build the party base by working through the Organizing Committee of the AMP.  These independent unions will be brought together through the democratic, bottom-up practices of the AMP, to participate in the local and national structures and to hold office at these levels.  From the local committee to the national leadership and eventually political office in the name of the Labor Party, should be the goals and the right of every AMP member.

Our platform for the AMP will be guided by our Marxist analysis and our advances in the trade union struggles.  We will demand the equality of labor and its rightful claim to our share of a company’s success.  “In unity there is strength,” will have true meaning in the AMP and hopefully in the broader based Labor Party.   The exact issues will reflex the times they are drafted in and will keep changing with history. But the guiding principles will be the same, class struggle and the inevitable victory of Socialism.

Although Marx never specifically mentioned this twist in the growth and scale of both Capitalism and Socialism, he did give us the basic strategy, “workers of the world, unite!”  Now, more than ever our international solidarity has to be realized.  We will need a global approach to our organizing and we don’t even have a political party to help us do this.  It is labor, the main contradiction in society, which is supposed to lead this struggle, but here in America we have stopped using Marxism because the Soviet-model has collapsed.  It was too dogmatic, it had to be changed and democratized.  Although, the Chinese-model (capital-socialism) is succeeding, it still struggles with its democracy and civil liberties issues.  We need to develop an American-Marxism that will once again take Marxism to a new vision of socialism, liberty and justice for all.  We can do this! ;{-

REALITY-SOCIALISM IN THE 21st CENTURY, A CRITIQUE AND A DREAM

First of all, I would like to say that I have a lot of respect for academics and I don’t mean for this critique of them to be taken as a belittlement of all their contributions to Socialist ideas. What I am trying to do is point their attention to a more pressing problem with Socialism in America.

Too often I am reading about a utopian socialism. A socialism that is devoid of capitalist and working great. But I don’t see any models of this utopian socialism in existence. I do see plenty of reality-socialism models around the world but most of the academics refuse to recognize them as socialism at all. Many of them (socialist models) are corrupt and dictatorial and should be criticized as such but they have socialist economies and they are functioning, for better or worse, differently than our capitalist system. Don’t you think that an honest discussion of factual-socialism, warts and all, would be more useful for the students you influence, year after year?

The “micro-level social transformation” that you observe from your ivory towers should, in my opinion, be the most important place for American Socialist to start a discussion about the need for socialism, revolution and playing a relevant role in American workers’ lives. That social transformation we need is to organize the unorganized. We should hold out a realistic model of what solutions socialism has to offer against capitalism’s shortcoming. When you speak out loud of the days when workers will collectively and democratically distribute the surpluses they produce, please remember that we are a long way from collective or democratic anythings. Our political power is shrinking and the AFL-CIO is the most corrupt and bankrupt leadership we’ve ever had.

Building a new party through which we can build a base among the working class is the first step towards anyone’s dreams for Socialism. It’s nice when you can just skip ahead to the good stuff, but it is a disservice to exclude reality from your academic works. A prediction for the future should also include a plan for getting there that is realistic. A reminder to keep our feet on the ground when we’re dreaming. We need a path to Socialism

A Path for Socialism in the 21st Century

My dream begins with today and the state of affairs within the labor movement in general, and Socialism, in particular. What I see is a 2-party system of democracy and civil liberty in which the working-class is poorly represented by liberal elements of the Democratic Party. I see the biggest labor organization, the AFL-CIO, collapsing under the pressure of run-away jobs in a global economy. Its undemocratic style of leadership is incapable of organizing the un-organized or even fighting for the multitude of issues that affects the workers of America.

The Left-wing of the political momentum of this country is in a free-fall with all kinds of people and organizations claiming to have the correct analysis of the global economy. But none of these groups or individuals has a practice to prove it. Even a failed practice is better than none at all because at least you learn what not to do.

My practice with the New Left organization, For The People, was a failed attempt at starting a new political party, but we were very effective at organizing the workers and involving them in the solutions to their problems. It became dogmatic and undemocratic and eventually its “ultra-leftism” caused the breakup of the core group. Yet, it was labor’s best ally in the face of a declining industrial base. I certainly learned my Marxism and how to organize the unorganized while I was there. We helped workers to organize and to use democracy to “kick the bums” out of office. Our newspaper not only spouted Socialist ideals but also local struggles.

We supported feminist and anti-racist by giving them space in our paper and on the editorial board. Many of our community supporters did not understand all the in-fighting that was going on with ultra-feminist and ultra-racist pointing fingers at each other. Soon they lost interest in joining our committees and we slowly faded away. This or a story ending the same way is what began the demise of most of the New Left’s efforts.

The collapse of the Soviet economy is another failure we can learn from even though it has shaken everyone’s faith in Marxism and rightly so. Dogmatism, such as the Soviets practiced, which called for a socialist economy without any capitalism, we learned is not the proper role for a Socialist economy that is trying to survive in a world dominated by capitalist economies. If it were, then the Soviet model would be booming by now, but instead we have the Chinese Communist model which is a merger of state controlled industries and institutions closely regulating the capitalists it allows into its economy. It dominates capitalism not eliminates it.

Remember when our economy needed two, $800 billion bailouts (Bush & Obama), it was China who loaned us the money. A dogmatist, like the USSR would have refused to help capitalism. But the Chinese-Socialist model is one that needs capitalist to provide innovation and to hire its workers, but it also heavily regulates the business community. In my eyes, it is a new direction for socialism. That is what brings me to the second part of my dream, imaging how America’s workers can lead us from “here to there.” But before I get to that, let me say this about China and Socialism.

Why I Think China is a Socialist economy

The Chinese economy is the second largest “Market” in the world and it was forged from the efforts of a peasant army that took a starving nation and through a Maoist interpretation of Marx (Chinese-Marxism), they formed collective farms and brought it back to life. They firmly placed it on the road to Socialism, and what we have seen over the decades is the transformation of a Socialist- agrarian economy into a Socialist-industrial economy. It is not a utopian Socialism, it’s a living, breathing Socialist Society that has to struggle with a one party system of government. The state runs the economy through its banks and state-run industries and the Communist Party of China (CPC) runs the state. All capitalist must form partnerships with Chinese businesses in order to enter the marketplace. This is not what the Soviet Union did but that doesn’t make it a total capitulation to capitalism by the Chinese either. It’s just not a “dogmatist” approach to capitalism by a Socialist State. Capitalism is still the enemy of the people, but when the only other viable Socialist Economy, Russia, has totally abandoned all the peoples’ assets and returned them to private property, you have to seek a peaceful co-existence with capitalism. That is exactly what I see the CPC doing as it allows Global Wealth Funds to enter the marketplace slowly, with the Central Committee watching what they invest in. This is hardly “Les-affaire” capitalism and it is much more regulation than the European Union or American economies have in place. They still use a planned-economy approach from the Central Committee.

Of course they have problems with their model of socialism. It is corrupt, undemocratic and oppressive. New class lines are being drawn by the existence of capitalist in China and many of the Party’s leaders are millionaires. Chinese businesses are gaining influence with the central committee members. Reality, this is what destroys all utopian models of Socialism. But just because it is corrupted by reality doesn’t make it a capitalist economy. It is Reality-Socialism instead of Utopian-Socialism and that is difficult for some people to accept. If it doesn’t conform to their vision of Socialism then it’s not Socialism, to them. Well remember that America is a corrupted society but that doesn’t mean we’re not capitalist, we’re just Reality-Capitalism. I am surprised at how many people, today, who say they are Socialist, don’t recognize it when they see it and don’t support Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea, Viet Nam, even Sweden or any emerging socialist economy. None of these are perfect but they are, for good or for bad, Reality- Socialist models.

I feel that China has moved the ball forward for Socialism by establishing some strong elements for a socialist society that other nations can emulate. They have a strong State-bank and most of their natural resources are under the control of a State-run company. They are not afraid to regulate any industry it feels is getting more powerful than they need to be. What China represents today is a realistic model of what labor can achieve with state power and state control of the basic industries, including banking. But it is still a class society with Cadre as the ruling and middle classes and workers still in need of independent organizations to represent their interests. It’s also undeveloped in the areas of democracy and civil liberties and that too is part of its Socialist model.

Back to The Dream, getting to there from here.

To begin my journey to Socialism in America, I must first look at the leadership that will take us on this adventure. It all begins when the strongest leaders of the American socialist movements care enough to make our scattered efforts to change the world a united one. Start a political party that is organizing the unorganized and letting the people write the platform for change. As I mentioned earlier, we are in disarray, basically leaderless unless some organization is ready to step forward. In order for this organization to be the legitimate, third Party that our 2-party system needs, it must have its base firmly planted in the Labor movement. Hopefully, it will be a Marxist party with a distinctive “American” point of view and analysis that will slowly but surely guide the workers of America to a new American Marxism, whatever that may become. This American Marxist party will be the catalyst, hopefully, for a revitalized labor movement that will want to bring more socialist idea to the American economy, without destroying it first.

From our base as a democratic labor movement, we can form a labor party to bring together all of the progressive elements to combat the negative ones that are presently vying for leadership of our class to promote their anti-worker agenda.   “Organize the unorganized and democratize the undemocratic” should be our new slogan as we tackle the first hurdle toward American Socialism, building our base.

Trying to call for the formation of an American Labor Party without having any workers to bring to the party would be stupid. But calling for the “need” for an American Labor Party while you are building your base could be a rallying point for attracting vanguard workers and activist. Once the party has reached a certain level of visibility and influence, its call for the third party will be taken seriously by its allies. At this level of organizing, running candidates and a political agenda of positive reforms will open up more opportunities to bring socialist ideas to Congress and even the White House. Will we try to mirror the Chinese model or will we try something new? Will we write a new chapter to “Das Capital?” I’m not sure what socialism will look like when it finally comes to America but I can hope. I hope it brings a better life for everyone in society, but especially for the working-class who truly are the backbone of any economy.

What kind of Socialism do I Believe in?

Socialism is a moving, growing and shrinking thing that can’t be defined once and for all. Every day the facts change and so should our analysis. I read the manifesto as most of us have, and I got fired up to defeat capitalism and live the dream of “form each according to his skills and to each according to his need”, but the best I could do was try to organize a union. There was not going to be any armed revolution like Russia, China, Cuba, North Korea, etc. In America, Marx’s revolution is still in its infancy. We suffer from “Infantile Disorder” to the highest degree. We fight among ourselves and call each other names and use the internet to try to do virtual organizing, but we can’t get anyone’s attention. In our journals we are skating around the real issues of organizing the unorganized. I read a story here or there about some workers fighting back but, I don’t read any articles about how a Marxist should be organizing those workers. We discuss how good it will be after capitalism and what a great society we will form when there are no more classes. But we don’t look out the window and see just how far away we are from overthrowing capitalism in America. America is capitalism’s, “top of the world.” It will be the last bastion of capitalism to fall to the revolutionary masses. So what do we do in the meantime while we wait for capitalisms demise, play video games, perhaps?

When we do look out the window we see that everywhere socialism has planted its seed and grown, the fruit is bitter. “This isn’t Socialism,” we proclaim and go our merry way. We just keep promoting Utopian-Socialism everywhere we go and in everything we write. No one wants to talk about the 800 lb. gorilla in the room, the lack of leadership from American Marxist, the lack of a Marxist Party and the lack of a Marxist strategy for the American working-class.

Socialism has been tried in a lot of different places, with mixed results. We as Marxist should be studying these “Socialist Models” and critiquing what we like and dislike. What caused one to fail and others to change their attitude about capitalism? Then we still have to decide how we are going to assist Global Socialism in the Global Economy from our position in the belly of the beast, the American political system and the US Capitalist Economy.

I don’t care about the crisis of neoclassical economics or the rift in the universal metabolism, I want to talk about organizing models. I want Labor to become the “main contradiction” that all good Marxist want to resolve. I am tired of listening to discussions that don’t contribute to the efforts to become more than a marginal group of intellectuals. Let’s skip to the part where we start getting to the subject of objectively perceived, Reality-Socialism. Let’s talk about the good and the bad in every country that is trying to build a Socialist economy. Let’s build unity around our analysis and a plan which we all can implement, to build a Socialist movement again. We need to apply Marxism to the American economy with the idea of increasing our political base among the working-class. We need to organize enough political power to start dominating capitalism and its political parties, the Democrats and the Republicans. This should be the focal point of every Marxist editorial board. We don’t have to wait until we over through capitalism to start laying the ground work for the eventual nationalization of our economy. Each time we defend our standard of living, we are doing the work of revolutionaries and building a path to Socialism.

A New American Marxism

I have noticed that there is little movement on the left in America and even less being said about the lack of theoretical discussion and leadership.  No one cares to talk about the state of our unions or the need to be a model for the future of American Labor.  Well I would like to start a discussion by saying what I think about Marxism in America.

First of all, the 20th century saw a lot of development in the world wide Marxist movement.  Starting with the Soviet Union, we began to see what kind of communist model dogmatism could build.  It succeeded in coming to power but became beaurocratic and top-down quite quickly.  The Bolsheviks killed the Mensheviks, someone killed Lenin, them Stalin killed everybody.   They had no hint of democracy in their government, everything was controlled by the “dictatorship of the Proletariat”.  This model of Communism was exported throughout the “Soviet Bloc” nations and failed miserably everywhere it went.

Then Chairman Mao came along with his “revisionist” model of Marxism, the peasant’s revolution.  In China, the agrarian workers were organized into collectives at the village level from which they were able to rise up against the feudal landowners and eventually the foreign capitalist.  The Maoist began, at first, to take care of the farmers and villagers as well as take the reins of the economy.  The Great Leap Forward has made millionaires out of most of the Communist Party leaders.  While the rights of peasants and workers are being left out of the social agenda of the People’s Congress and the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party.  The Maoist also had their followers like North Korea, Viet Nam Laos and Others.  Likewise the “planned economies” of these nations are also making millionaires out of Communist leaders.  Democracy must, once again, take a back seat to the “dictatorship of the Proletariat”.

At least, we learned that Marxism is neither stagnant nor dogmatic.  It can be revised to fit the unique situation of every type of economy.  From the Agrarian economies of the Third World countries to the Global economies of the industrialized nations.  So I ask you, “What kind of Marxist Model will work in the American economy”?  A New American Marxism must be devised and implemented to get this country back on track to organize and defend the American workers from their mutual enemies.

To begin with, I propose that we form an umbrella organization for all leftist to join and participate in supporting each other and critiquing our work in order to develop a unified model of American Marxism and a Party structure to support its work.  We need an American Labor Party.

It is the perfect platform from which we can begin to organize the 88% of the American working class that the AFl-CIO either won’t or can’t seem to organize.

If we take a look at our own leftist history in America, in the last century, I would say that the formation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) was our finest hour.  It was clearly the leadership of the left that brought the CIO to rival the long standing power and position of the Knights of Labor.  The strategy they used was a familiar one, they built democratic rank and file organizations that harnessed the needs and will of the people together.   In a national movement they built organizing committees for every industry that they could find workers willing to unionize.  They tried their best to keep the rank and file in charge of the unions they had built, but eventually, the conservative forces pushed the leftist out of power, in these unions and the rest is history.

So, where are we today and what do we do next?  This is the crossroad of the American leftist movement.  The Global Economy needs a global response and we don’t even have an effective national organization.  We have no strategy and no money.  We are bankrupt both physically and morally.

We are facing what every leftist organization in the world has gone through, total defeat and demoralization of our hopes and dreams.  And like every other leftist organization in the world we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, heal our wounds and regroup.  To stop trying is to admit defeat and defeat is unacceptable.  Each generation must take up the struggle to fight for our survival as a class, not just individuals.  For some it is time to pass on the baton and for others it is time to decide whose side are you on?  Is it going to be THEM or US?  You had better choose before it’s too late.  Now is the time for all you Starbuck Stalinist, Latte Leninist and Mocha Maoist to get off your Wi-Fi’s and start building a new American Marxism.

MORE NOTES ON A NEW AMERICAN MARXISM

At the Left Forum, 2014, I saw firsthand how directionless we (“The Left”) really are. It was a limited but none the less fair representation of campus politics for leftist in America. I met and talked with representatives from the Socialist Alternative, to the Workers Vanguard. Everything, from socialism through election, to Marxist reform movements in the AFL-CIO. But none of them gave me any real hope. They were just aimless punches, swinging wildly and barely hitting their target. There was no discussion about the basic beliefs guiding their activities. Even the Occupy Movement was asking us what to do next and I don’t believe we ever gave them an answer. I was looking for some group or someone to point us in the right direction. I guess that’s going to be my responsibility.
The first thing I looked for when I needed to solve a grievance in the labor movement was a “past practice.” A past or similar grievance that could give me a starting point to resolving this present one. I looked at History, so to speak, to help steer me in the right direction. I looked at what was resolved and how it was resolved and I begin to put together a resolution to this grievance.
When the Occupy Movement (OM) wanted to know what to do next, we should have told them about our history. We should be telling them what we’ve done and what worked and what didn’t. By “we” I mean people who have been trying to change America. We need to tell the OM about the life and death of the Communist Party (CPUSA) and its adherence to the Soviet model. It was totally undemocratic and clung to the “party-line” of the USSR, I honestly don’t remember ever actually electing officers to run the CPUSA. I know I never voted for Gus Hall or Angela Davis to be on the central committee. But they did have a good Marxist analysis of American capitalism and they had a positive role in the formation of the CIO and the United Farm Workers (UFW). They also had some good Marxist study groups. There is good and bad in everyone’s story but that is how we build a better Left. Keep what works and change what doesn’t.
If there was any advice I could give to the OM it would be to learn about the history of as many leftist movements as you can. Learn the history of the cities you live in and the unions you join. Go back to the 60’s. 70’s and 80’s to find out what has been tried, what worked and what failed. Then you can begin to build the next revolutionary movement on the shoulders of the past.
It is important that we study the American Left experience as well as the experiences of other countries. We need to have a thorough understanding of the American Left in order to apply the lessons of Marxism to the American economy, labor movement and American democracy. The history of American Leftist movements is essential in helping the OM, or some elements within it, to formulate a new American Marxism. A Marxism that works with all the progressive forces in American politics, and represents the working class interest of the all workers. An American Marxism that can lead as a party and be a founding member of the legitimate “third” party in America’s political future.
As an Independent Marxist I have come to the conclusion that establishing a political party that represents the true issues of working class people and has its roots in organizing the community and the unorganized is an important first step towards winning the Socialist Revolution. It is my understanding that to move people forward, politically, you must demonstrate to them that only a revolution will bring true socialism into their lives. But first you must show them how much they can achieve as their unity grows on a national scale. Rebuilding the left to achieve these goals has become my mantra.
My Marxist views were not formed in a vacuum, but in a career that spans forty years of activism. Not only did I study Marxism and labor history, I worked in the industries that have vanished or downsized or that took back wages and benefits. I voted on contracts, formed organizing committees, ran for office and organized in the community. I even helped free a Black Panther Party Leader from Walpole State Prison in Massachusetts. He was framed by COINTELPRO, an FBI anti-citizen conspiracy. These experiences are what give me my insights and my right to be offering up a theory about forming a new American Marxist viewpoint. Experience and an understanding of history can give the OM the right to claim a leadership role in the next great experiment of the American Leftist Movement.
An American Labor Party is a basic organization that can be used to democratically unite the many different Socialist parties and groups into a more broad based force. And it will serve as a beacon for a third party alternative for workers who can’t believe in either the Democrats’ or the Republicans’ plans for them. From this platform, each party can develop its own base among the workers through their organizing and still make a contribution to the advancement of socialism, in a united effort. Under the relative supportive environment of the umbrella organization, individual groups can develop their own theory and practice and report on it in the Labor Party journals. We will be united in our defense of our standard of living and our consumer power, while we figure out just what American Marxism or any path to Socialism in America is, in the new global economy.
As Bob Dylan once wrote, ”It doesn’t take a Weatherman to know which way the wind blows”. Those lyrics, in my opinion, are most poignant today because we are seeing more alienation and disenchantment with politics. The winds are blowing the American worker farther and farther away from the established parties. As the unemployment grows, the government is cutting our unemployment benefits. The AFL-CIO is shrinking as more workers reject its “business as usual” attitude and they want new forms of organizations to come to their rescue. People want relief from the assaults on their standard of living and their opportunities to get ahead. They need us to help them stop the loss of jobs, the rising rents, the homelessness and hopelessness of their future in America. 88% of the 99% are unorganized. I know which direction I’m going, forward, towards a new American Marxism.

TOWARDS A NEW AMERICAN MARXISM – PART 2

One of the strangest things I ever did while I was a member of For The People (FTP), a New Left organization I once belonged to, was advocating for a bottom–up strategy for the AFL-CIO union I was in, while I was participating in a top-down organization. FTP was based on the Soviet Model of organization which calls for a Central Committee (CC) that appoints all the officers of the party. Even the CC of FTP was a self-anointed body of the intellectuals who started the newspaper project and a few, handpicked vanguard workers. For the 10, or so years that I supported FTP, we never held a vote or nominated people for office. It is my opinion that the Intellectuals were lacking in practical organizing experiences, didn’t participate in their own teachers union and were completely enamored with the Russian Revolution. They used the Communist Party, USA (CPUSA) as their model of what a Socialist Party should act like. Today, we know this was a bad idea, but back then we believed that socialism was working in the USSR. We fell for all the propaganda, too. Even the Maoists among us were enraptured with the Chinese Communist Party and its propaganda.
But we were wrong and we have to admit that in order to move on to a better idea. The Soviet model was a top-down bureaucratic dictatorship, similar in many ways to the AFLCIO’s model for running trade unions. Even Russia’s attempt to form a capitalist democracy has collapsed into another dictatorship, this time it’s the rich who silence all dissent.
Today, I know that to lead, in a political sense, means to lead by example. Our actions speak louder than ours words do and if I want to build bottom-up and democratic unions I have to have a bottom-up and democratic political party to build them with. A party to build the kind of democratic organization that I have been advocating for in my trade union work. A bottom-up party, to lead in the struggle for the hearts and minds of the American workers.
I have some ideas about how a new American Marxist Party (AMP) could be structured. As I have already outlined in “A Theory of Empowerment Organizing”, (available to read at http://www.newamericanmarxism.wordpress.com), I envision an AMP which is made up of numerous community based organizing committees. These organizing committees are the most important part of our outreach campaigns to welcome workers and members of the working class to the Party, as we help them try to solve their day-to-day political problems. In FTP, we ran a food co-op, an unemployed workers council, workers education classes and we published and distributed a political newspaper. Under a top-down structure like FTP’s, people could volunteer for any committee, but all the committee chairpersons were appointed by the CC.
In contrast, an AMP would be a bottom-up, democratic group in which each committee, either organizing a labor union or a community group would elect their own chair, who would represent that group at a central committee of chairs. This CC would hold regular meetings and report back to the membership before taking any action on behalf of the AMP or its chapters. It’s a little simplistic, but I think it’s enough of a skeleton to give you a basic idea of how to build a bottom-up political organization. As the AMP grows, its international structure can still reflect this bottom-up style, with a CC of dully elected members, whose actions can only be implemented if the membership approves by a national vote. Guarding the membership’s right to approve or disapprove any decisions of the CC is the only way I know of to empower them. To make them feel that the AMP truly is a members-run organization.
Empowerment organizing is an essential revision to any Marxist party with a realistic expectation to move the revolution forward in their lifetime. Sitting on the sidelines waiting for the next calamity to bring down capitalism or preparing for armed struggle to topple the government and replace it with chaos and anarchy are lessons that the last 100 years has told us doesn’t work. Get up to speed with your history and move on to the next “big thing”, the next phase in the development of Marxism. An American Marxism that works for the American Working Class. A Marxism that fights for the rights and freedoms and issues of workers in America, in the American political arena, of the 21st Century, right now! With a Marxist analysis that can be used right now as we think of ways to win more and more socialist inspired programs. Until finally, we are strong enough politically and the people approve of our Socialist dreams for them.
Democracy in a Marxist Party model is no threat to the ability to use Marxism for the basis of our present-day analysis. Majority rule is a trustworthy solution to choosing between differences of strategy that creep up in any political debate about either socialism or capitalism. Membership approval also solidifies support, once an issue is settled, so we can unite against our common enemies. So long as a vote is held fairly and the count is true, the membership will accept it as their own and move on to the next issue. All Marxism is eventually proven true or false by its practice in society and its eventual re-evaluation and advancement of Marxist theory. The dialectal-materialist philosophy upon which Marxism is based has not been altered by a democratic dimension. In many ways, democracy is a natural development of class struggle in the present circumstances. This is where we find ourselves in the 21st century, facing global capitalism, with a two-party political system to defend ourselves.
Unlike the Soviet or Chinese models of government, we don’t have to eliminate the “Menshevik” or arrest the “Gang of Four” to achieve a false sense of unity. We just need to let “majority-rule” be the solution to our disagreements. We do not need to keep splitting into smaller and smaller “rulers of the realm”. We can be different but united if we are willing to give democracy a chance to work in a Marxist organization. Different solutions to the same problem can co-exist and if we are honest in our critique of each other’s work, we will eventually reach a united Marxist analysis. Or at least we will follow the “will of the majority”, together.

UNIONS: IN THEORY AND IN PRACTICE

When I first read Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto, it was 1967 and I was doing my last book report for the nuns at Holy Family High. I would graduate in June but not without making some kind of statement about how angry I was to have been forced to attend this school. I was pissed. Pissed at school, pissed at my family and pissed at not going to vocational school, like I wanted. I wasn’t going to the Prom, I was joining the Army. I was making a statement about the time I wasted and the “shock value” of the Manifesto was that statement, “Workers of the World, Unite!” It took me another 3 years and a trip to Nam before I would realize what these words really meant to me.
When I returned from the Army and over the next 10 or so years, I was very lucky to have the opportunities that I did to immerse myself in the trade unions of the New Bedford and Fall River, Ma. area and to study Marxism with an SDS(Students for a Democratic Society) group called, For The People (FTP). I was smack dab in the middle of the “New Left” movement. I read newspapers and magazines like the Daily Worker, The Guardian, The Progressive and Monthly Review. Our group, FTP, had Marxist study groups and organized courses in organizing and anti-capitalism. With my relative proximity to Boston, I was exposed to all forms of leftism and organizing theories from the Progressive Labor Party (PLP) to the Alinsky method of organizing.
Throughout all of this I was constantly updating my Marxism. I grew from a dogmatist to a revisionist (revisionary, as I like to say) and I watched as Marxist and leftist thinkers politically corrected themselves into oblivion. I waited for the talks to resume, maybe after some group would organize the South, or stop runaway shops in the North, but no one was coming forward. That’s when I realized that in order to restart the discussion of Marxist theory and practice I needed to form a basic Marxist analysis of my own to begin this discussion. What I’ve come to understand is that every successful Marxist Party has its own, unique, Marxist analysis of its economy and the role the working class plays in it. We need that very same unique, American Marxist Analysis of our country and our class situation. I have spent 40 years engaged in the daily struggles of my own personal, working class life as well as keeping an active awareness of the national labor movements, as best I could. Now I am ready to begin my own Marxist analysis of these experiences and I feel this is a good place, the Monthly Review, to make my contribution to the national debate.
American Trade Unions have always been held up as a way for working people to exercise their power on the job and at the ballot box. This is basically true but the reality is entrenched Local and International leadership that just keep rubber stamping each other’s corruption. When the Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) kicked the bums out of office, what happened? The govt. orchestrates their demise and reinstates the old “Machine.” When the Boeing workers rejected a “sweetheart” contract from management, what happened? The International and the Democrats come in and force a questionable vote on workers (they didn’t allow “absentee” ballots). The examples could go on and on. How many times do you have to defeat another dues increase or stop a vote to send a bunch of bums to a convention in Las Vegas or Atlantic City. We have no real democracy in our unions and we get no real representation by the Democrats, who we keep voting for even though they keep making Trade Agreements. It’s clearly a case of “taxation without representation” and no, I am not a “Tea Party” member. But I do want to point out the need for a political voice for working men and women that really respect what they want and need as members of a class, not a party that just offers us crumbs if we do what we’re told.
An American Marxist Party must see that its goal is to fulfill that need in the American political landscape, which is to organize and educate its base among the working class and its vanguard. We need to keep the focus of Marxist thinking on the main targets, the global economy, the “means of production” and our relationship to it as we struggle to bring more socialist solutions to the bargaining table. It is the platform upon which we build our alliances. It’s where the Intelligencia and the student movement meet the working class leaders.
I believe that the failures of Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism, etc., were due, in part, because they shut out Capitalism and the bourgeoisie from the political process completely. They didn’t know that they could peacefully, co-exist with them and in some symbiotic way they needed each other to grow as a strong economy. Their party structure is undemocratic and corruption will soon rule the day. They are trying to force feed socialism down people’s throats and soon their social experiments will backfire, if they haven’t already. Look at our own failed “social experiments” and how it all collapsed under our own ultra-left extremes. Learning what is good and what is bad about our own history will be an important step for us to take towards forming a new Marxist Party in America.
An American Marxist Party should be a place to workers where the “dictatorship of the proletariat” means the Party represents them and only them. No liberal elements of the bourgeoisie can hold office or vote in the Party’s sessions, only workers will run the Party. Only workers will vote on its platform and only workers will represent the Party. An American Marxist Party must accept the fact that Democracy and civil liberties are the hallmarks of our country’s way of life, and we must participate and protect them. Our goal should be to defend the interest of Labor and the working class at every level of government we can reach through our organizing.
Here, in America, the Upper class and the Middle class have entrenched positions at the political bargaining table. We will be the Third Party upstart trying to elbow our way in to the bargaining sessions. Informing the public and getting out the vote will be our strongest weapon against Wealth, as long as we have democracy and our civil liberties, which we must protect against the Robert’s Court’s attempts to dilute with unlimited donations.
The platform of the Party should reflect its commitment to industrial democracy in the trade unions and aggressive representation of the interest of the Working Class in our democratic society. An American Working Class Party needs to insist that all trade unions under the Party’s influence will be run honestly and democratically. The Party is a powerful voice for democracy, social progress as a class and social justice that is fair to all. All this can be undermined by corruption and so the Party must defend basic democratic membership rights in all unions. Its goal should be to defend and strengthen these democratic rights at the local, national and federal levels of the political life of the working class. Existing Trade Unions will only be allowed to join if they are democratic and their financial records are available for review by Party Trustees. It will also be the obligation of the Party to recruit members by establishing area wide organizing committees to assist rank and fillers who want to organize or reform a union.
The Party should also be ready to publish newspapers, flyers and leaflets both on paper and electronically. It should be organizing community based organizing cells to discuss and promote its structure and ideology. Union reform, building rank and file caucuses and community-based organizing committees should be seen as important jobs that need to be done by this new Party. Helping the poor and unemployed will also be taken up with equal enthusiasm. Education of the masses about our Party’s platform and goals will also be done by these local committees.
Party membership should be open to any member of the working class, as defined by Marx, as well as low-income, unemployed and people in need of assistance. Marx’s idea of class as our “relationship to the means of production” is still relevant in our global economy. You have those that own the means of production and by “own” I mean buyers and sellers of what the means of production have been reduced to, stocks and bonds. Then you have the supervisors of the means of production such as the CEO, CFO, COO and countless other titles and jobs that denote our burgeoning middle class. And finally, those of us who sell our labor and create the excess value that oils the wheels of Capitalism, the working class. It’s getting clearer and clearer who the rich are and who the poor are. What isn’t clear is who represents these three class interest in a two party democracy. We have tried to hitch our wagon to the Democrats but we are getting less and less bang for our buck as they sell us out one trade deal after another. The need for Big Money in politics has marginalized the influence of the AFL-CIO and their own corruption has led to their decline. This should be time for a real working class party to rise up, but the American left is in disarray. This leadership vacuum among the working class is drawing more and more of the right wing into the picture. The rise of the Tea Party and the NRA (National Rifle Association) should be all the wake up call we need to get our left wing act together. Now, more than ever is the time for a new American Marxism.
Using some of Mao’s thinking on the American situation, when you look at the American economy through Marxist eyes you have to ask yourself, what is the main issue that will, when resolved, move the other issues forward with it? I think that America’s main contradiction is a leadership vacuum and that the formation of a new American Marxism and a Labor Party is the solution. A strong union movement is the best ally for progressive social issues, community issues and the welfare of the majority of American families. With the leadership of a Marxist Party and the correct analysis on all the major issues, it could be the beacon for unity that the working class of America needs.

A Theory of Empowerment Organizing

It has been my observation, after 40+ years as a rank and file organizer and activist, that many of the unions of today in no way resemble the models of unionism upon which they were founded.  I’m talking about the unions that were formed by the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) during the ‘30’s and ‘40’s, not the unions of the Knights of Labor.  They have their own history of corruption.  The CIO’s model saw the union as an institution of social reform and their staff were proponents of industrial democracy and political independence.  The Unions of today’s AFL-CIO have been reduced to the status of a special interest group whose power rests in the amount of PAC money they can place in the hands of politicians.

In the early days the CIO unions were designed to give working people control over their working lives.  They did this by allowing workers, through their committees, to make real decisions about their working conditions, the political legislation they wanted to support, etc.  Unions established themselves in the community as the moral and political voice of the working men and women.  They were the embodiment of working class people’s rightful place in a democratic society.  The members truly did run their unions.

The staff of the CIO understood their union, its members and the importance of the democratic process.  There were power struggles for control of the union, but for the most part, they were settled at the ballot box.  Different cliques did emerge as the dominant leaders but they only ruled by the will of the membership.  With the “loyal opposition” ready to pounce on their every move, overall it was a healthy rivalry that kept the union honest and democratic.

Gradually, both the companies and the government began to grow weary of rank and file democracy, it was hard to beat the solidarity.  So the companies began to support certain factions within the unions that they felt were easier to work with.  They also negotiated a dues check-off clause in their contracts.  This was aided by the government’s passage of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRB).  The NLRB began to channel worker’s grievances into the court system instead of settling them on the shop floor.  While the dues check-off clause made it easier for union leaders to get their hands on the money, without having to earn it.

With the company controlling the money and the NLRB settling grievances, union members were put at a severe disadvantage.  This collusion by corporations and the government has corrupted most unions and makes it difficult, but not impossible, to maintain a democratic, rank and file run union today.  This corruption has transformed our present day unions into the undemocratic and overly centralized bureaucracies we are faced with in the 21st century.

Today’s union leadership, for the most part, is career bureaucrats who lead from the top-down.  Combined with a limited or diluted understanding of democracy, it has led them to believe that only by taking control of all the decision making processes, like being chair of all committees, can a union be run efficiently.  They are afraid to establish a democratic relationship with their members or even let them participate in the defense of their grievances.

They have even developed top-down methods for organizing.  One is called the “blitz”, in which an energetic staff organizer runs around getting workers in a shop to sign a union card.  Once they’ve signed up a majority of people, they file for an election with the NLRB.  Then they start holding mass meetings to convince people to vote for the union.  At no point in the campaign does the organizer teach people about the stewards system or hold election for the first officers of the new union.  They just agitate about the low wages or health and safety problems and convince people that the union will take care of everything, after they win the NLRB election.

There are other top-down models that I won’t mention hear but they all have one thing in common, they put democracy and building the basic union structure as the last thing on the agenda.  I refer to these models of organizing as “junk bond” organizing.  They are a short term solution to the decline in membership and they are short sighted in understanding the goals of building a union movement.

I believe there is a better way to build unions and that is from the bottom-up, using community based, empowerment organizing.  This model is based on the old idea of industry-wide organizing committees in the early days of the CIO.  What’s new is the fact that in today’s political and social environment it can become a much more effective way to get the union’s message out to workers who are not organized.  Especially if these committees are sponsored by a political party, an American Labor Party, rather than individual unions.  I’m not just talking about labor schools but aggressive organizing committees that are actively seeking out unorganized workers who want to learn how to run a democratic union.

In the early days of the CIO, most unions were built out of community based organizing committees whose goal was to organize all the workers in an industry in that town.  It would take 2 or 3 years to win a union drive, because they had to teach people how to act together, in a democratic way.  They learned how to run their unions and to keep the faith and support of their members, as they did battle against the companies and the political system.  They succeeded because they made sure that the members and not some organizer ran the campaign.  This important element of giving the rank and file control over their own destiny is the main reason for the growth of the union in the ‘30’s,’40’s and ‘50’s.

If you look at the struggles of other social reform movements in America, like the civil rights movement of the ‘60’s, you can see this same type of community based organizing at work.  Long before any laws were passed or blacks were elected to office, the strategies of organizations like the NAACP, SNCC, SCLC and CORE were to educate people about their rights.  In many cases they even had to teach people how to read and write.  Eventually, they began to form the necessary democratic organizations they needed to begin to make progress on the issues.  Teaching their staff how to work “with” people instead of doing it “for” people was one of their biggest obstacles.

Unlike the “blitz” strategy, a community based, empowerment organizing committee (EOC) doesn’t only focus on winning an election.  An election campaign doesn’t teach people about democratic decision making, working together or solidarity with other workers in other shops.  An election campaign in no way can prepare people for contract negotiations, a strike or handling grievances.   These are the very next problems they will be facing, if they do win that election.  An EOC can prepare people better by educating them and giving them some practical experiences in leadership.  This experience or confidence building is what is meant by the term “empowerment organizing.”

Unlike the “blitz” model that gives an organizer a deadline, like 90 days, to get a majority of cards signed or move on, it is essential that empowerment organizers have a long term commitment to the rank and file and the community.  With an in-shop EOC, you will move away from just winning an NLRB election to a campaign to build a working union in the shop, before union recognition is achieved.  The election will become a secondary goal and “acting like a union” will become the focus of the EOC.

Eventually, when the in-shop EOC gets big enough to start a card signing campaign, they can decide how and when they will sign people up.  They may do it in the shop, after work or at a rally; it really doesn’t matter, as long as they decide what to do and how to do it democratically.

The EOC model that I have attempted to present is not the only “new” way to organize the unorganized, but it is an alternative to the top-down models that have dominated the American labor movement recently.  Trade Unions must return to democratic, rank and file unionism that is based in the idea of involving the members in deciding their own destiny.  Empowerment Organizing and a Labor Party to promote it are my idea of bottom-up unionism that can save labor movement from the enslavement of corruption and the impotence of the two party dictatorship we have now.