I’m writing this not out of intellectual reason but out of emotional, intuited need. Something is going on. There is some kind of growing shitstorm within the socialist movement. I haven’t put my finger on what exactly it is.
Before I lose my own point, the idea here is, let’s figure out a way to make it improve things instead of it just resulting in a bunch of drama, damage to the movement and organizations, and emotional burnout from high-stress arguments with no results or clarity.
It has some external manifestations. For one thing, I think there is a continued frustration by many socialists that, despite a world-historic recession, a massive Occupy movement, and an Impaler-style stabilization built on job cuts, wage cuts, and police repression (all under Democrats), socialist groups in the US have not really made any headway. Our resistance is so weak that even a self-imposed government shutdown is not being exploited as an opening or a question of state power.
Some other external manifestations are the obvious ones, where groups increasingly attack each other or even face “external” attacks by Internet commentators. (Though of course, the division between “members” and “non-members” is increasingly ridiculous in a world where we’re really all just one Left swarm united by the Internet and everything is visible anyway.) This is a typical trend of the Left – when it’s having trouble reaching out, its internal debates become sharper, almost always unnecessarily. It seems there is a growing tendency toward internal organizational strife and unhappiness.
But what is this thing, this growing agitation? I think it’s bigger than all of this. I think it is a rebirth of the Left in fire, a time of creatively-destructive self-reinvention. But it’s not even that. It’s astrological too, the apex of the long Uranus-Pluto conjunction which has defined this rebellious decade. But it’s even bigger still. For those who will indulge me, I feel it in the Force. It’s one of those things which is emerging from such a deep place in the collective (un)conscious that for the time being, out of reverence we should let it go without name.
It has led me to believe that CUSP is very positive but also not the entire answer.
That’s probably a surprise coming from me. CUSP is my baby, and my end-all-be-all. (And don’t freak out – this is not some sign I’m going to take CUSP any less seriously. If anything it’s now more important.)
However some people have raised what I increasingly find to be an unignorable criticism: the Left which exists is not worth uniting.
Am I this negative about it? No, not at all. The existing groups getting together would provide the general American population with a strong signal that the Left is getting its act together, and a united beacon to gather around. This, in itself, would create an environment of dialogue where healthy change could come to the fore.
Even moreso, I think there can be an evolutionary process where the existing Left groups actually improve, instead of tearing themselves apart in spasms of confusion and negativity which serve no one. I think change is possible. However it is then necessary for people to articulate, advocate, and organize this change.
We need to form a political center which does not place emphasis on building itself as an organization, because it is happy to work with anyone, and because its purpose is its message. Note that this is not in hostility to the existing groups but a supplement to them, which anyone in (our out) of any group can identify with or reject as they choose.
What should this political center stand for?
First, the obvious one: democracy. Many people raise various stinks about this or that group being undemocratic. Generally they don’t go into detail, allowing their criticisms to be easily dismissed.
Of course, various people who have raised these critiques have often done so in an extremely negative way guaranteed to accomplish little. Instead of pointing fingers and naming names, this political center should investigate, attempt, and advocate organizational innovations which increase democracy, making specific suggestions and ideas to the Left-in-general. It should analyze practices which fall short (not even naming names, just discussing structures) – and provide alternatives.
However – though democracy needs to be addressed, mainly to get it out of the way because everyone knew that was coming – in my opinion this is not the real critical issue. Perhaps it is problems in democracy which obstruct organic re-assessment of organizational practices in general.
Maybe the whole socialist emphasis on solely ideas was, well, a bad idea. “We don’t just dwell in ideas, we protest,” the response goes. But then maybe we need to ask ourselves, when we protest and demonstrate, who precisely is our audience? Who are we expecting to read the signs we make? Do we build lasting connections, or just feed a collapsing wave? (That’s an open-ended question.)
One of the saddest socialist oversights in my opinion is the failure to build organizational community, to intentionally get people to know each other and form friendships as a group-building tool.
A study by Doug McAdam of the University of Arizona focused on the Freedom Riders of the Civil Rights Movement. McAdam looked for different reasons why 75% of the participants stuck with it and 25% of them dropped out. The most important factors turned out to not be their level of political sophistication or their emotional commitment. The critical telling factor was, when participants were asked to write a list of all the people they personally knew in the movement, the dropouts had the shortest lists, and the holdouts had the longest. People stayed because they had a larger amount of real relationships with other people.
If we are to admit to ourselves this long-ignored dynamic of socialist organizing, then there are natural extensions. Maybe basing our whole organizational identities on extremely specific ideas was really the wrong move. People are looking for a socialist group, not a socialist group with their same matching extremely-specific angle on the Russia question – which they don’t even have, because they’re radicalized by living in Nightmare America, not reading Russian history.
At this stage of the working majority’s evolution in consciousness, the best that we can expect is socialism-in-general. To demand ideological specificity from people at this time would be a recipe for self-limitation, or awkward impositions of cognitive dissonance as people are expected to believe things they really did not sign up for. Again, this is not to say that the existing socialist groups are worthless, or that they should throw out their rich traditions or literature. The groups and their ideas are all valuable. It is simply to say that, while political specifics should be discussed and refinement should be very gently encouraged, at this stage it really should not be demanded, expected, or made into a membership requirement. And yes, it is possible that groups being split into different ideological lines does not simply reflect real divisions, but creates and exacerbates divisions where none actually needed to exist. Any motions toward embracing this will force a group to confront its true, unwritten party line, which typically pre-determines both the framing and outcome of any internal disagreements. This reform thus feeds back and reinforces democracy.
Well anyway. We need a political center (ie a mature, diplomatic, organized advocacy group) which educates and organizes people toward these ideas. The “organization” part would necessarily be loose, given the omni-locational and politically libertine nature of the thing.
If you’re interested, message me.