Imagine we were to assemble in one massive stadium everyone who favors changing societies to attain political, economic, and social justice for all. Everyone who wants to end war and poverty and begin civilization.
What views would this endlessly diverse worldwide assembly overwhelmingly share?
• Capitalism must be replaced. We need to produce and consume so that everyone has fair influence in determining outcomes and everyone gets a fair share of the social product. The needs and desires of all, not the dictates of competition or the advance of a few, should guide outcomes. All social and environmental costs and benefits should be accounted. We needed to end exploitation and alienation. We need economics without class rule.
• Patriarchy must be replaced. We need to nurture and socialize the next generation, handle daily life arrangements, engage in sexual life, and generally interrelate across genders, ages, and preferences such that no groups are subordinated to any others. We need kinship without denial and denigration, kinship without sexist hierarchy.
• Racism and community hierarchies of all kinds must be replaced. We need communities to celebrate life, language, belief systems, and habits – whether national, religious, ethnic, or racial – such that community members always respect ways different than their own. We need free entry and exit from cultural communities that guarantee all cultural communities ample room to develop and operate. We need culture without subordination and superiority, culture without cultural hierarchy.
• Authoritarian polity, in all its many forms, must be replaced. We need legislation, adjudication, and collective endeavor that deliver to each actor collectively self managing say in their lives and in the life of the whole community. We need polity without having a state imposing from above its population. We need politics without ruling and being ruled, politics without political hierarchy.
• Ecology must be protected and unsustainable choices replaced. We need ecological and social practices that take into account the full ecological implications of our options wherein people who decide their own fates take into account those implications to decide outcomes consistent with environmental wisdom. We need ecology without un-sustainability, ecology without ecological suicide. We need ecology with reciprocity.
• The world’s peoples must be nourished and protected. We need international relations which transcend violent war. We need an end to international relations that relegate some to poverty or exclusion while others are enriched or elevated. We need international relations without war. International exchange without colonialism and imperialism, internationalism without national hierarchies. We need a global community without global inequality.
Finally, in exposing and pursuing the implications of all the above, wouldn’t those in our gigantic stadium also agree that activists who develop vision and strategy and who engage in programmatic tactics and projects should practice mutual respect and mutual aid. That we should guard against sectarianism. That we should welcome and protect dissent. That while shared views should guide and create a basis for all else, beyond what is shared and foundational, diversity should be welcome. That the seeds of a better future should be planted in the present both by the demands we win for society but also by the relations we establish for ourselves in our own efforts.
I claim that a sober and calm conversation, if it could occur within the giant stadium of leftists we have imagined, would yield wide, deep agreement with the above points. In fact, such conversation would probably yield more agreement than what is noted above, but at least that much.
That said, we have a problem to solve. If hundreds of thousands and even millions or tens of millions of people could share the above views, and if even more would share them upon hearing them, how many now manifest that commonality jointly? How many now seek to collectively participate along with the rest to pursue the desired changes? How many now want, seek, and would rush to join the rest who share the above views in an organization operating locally in cities, nationally in countries, and internationally for the world?
So far, we know the historical answer. We have seen no such massively federated unity in the past five decades, and more. We have had no vehicle combining the energy and desire of all lefties, or even of most lefties, or honestly, even of a significant minority of lefties, into organizational coherence sufficient for them to together share vision, strategy, and emergent collective campaigns spanning the globe.
The closest I can remember lefties coming, post Sixties, internationally, to seeking this type coherence, was the World Social Forum—but that wasn’t an organization in which lefties worked together. Rather it was a wonderful project with a small set of convenors and hosts which had no enunciated collectively shared politics, vision, and program, though it did span many countries.
So, if it is true that when given a little time to calmly converse, share, and trust, we lefties in an imagined stadium would discover that we think and feel pretty alike about at least the points listed earlier, why haven’t we gotten together? What stops us?
Is it the power of the states we confront? Is it police and jails that have mainly obstructed deep and wide unity? No, not that I am aware of. Not really, Not over the past fifty years. Of course states with their police raise ierrible obstacles, induce crippling fear, and repress effective dissent. But to say we haven’t gotten together into federated local, national, and international organization that has shared analysis, vision, strategy, and structural commitments roughly at the level of the earlier listed points because states have prevented us from doing so is tantamount to saying that all over the world, the act of joining a unifying organization would yield violent, unavoidable, and insurmountable repression. Certainly that isn’t so. And even where something akin to that has occurred, it has rarely itself been a wholly effective deterrent to shared organization. In fact, actual repression often even spurs greater response from those repressed, at least until that response devolves for other reasons.
Is the obfuscation and confusion sown by mainstream media the main obstacle that prevents deep and wide unity? Certainly media madness exists. Certainly it plays a quite large role for non leftists, for example. But for those who already share the above listed views, while media madness can and does often induce some confusion, depression, and somnolence, to say media madness is the cause of our not getting together goes too far. Watching, hearing, or reading media doesn’t extinguish our capacity for mutual aid and collectivity. It doesn’t cause us to renounce our views, including, for example, those listed earlier. Even with media madness, we can still conceive the above mentioned level of agreement. We can also, if we choose, seek to implement it organizationally and programmatically.
What’s left? Is the main obstacle preventing emergence of wide and deep organization with shared vision and strategy—that we just can’t stand each other? Is it that we are so individualist and so nasty that our personal selfishness and arrogance and plain old anti social orneriness literally undoes our efforts to get together? There is some truth to that, like the other obstacles, but to say our anti-sociality is the main obstacle—do you believe it? I don’t.
I think, actually, even all of these factors taken together don’t amount to a compelling explanation. Not for lefties who already share the views listed earlier. On the other hand, the fear in our minds that these factors will cripple us, even if they in fact haven’t done so in life and can’t do so in life, materially–I think that has a lot more weight. The fear that these factors will force us to fail is far more powerful than the reality of these factors actually having a material impact. That is, the belief we will fail due to these reasons has way more weight than the actual power of any of these reasons, or even all of them, to actually cause us to fail if we didn’t give them such power in our minds.
In other words, our worries about failing—whether due to repression, due to confusion, or due to our selfish anti sociality—is far more powerful than any actual manifestations of these factors materially interfering with our efforts. In short, we worry about failing for these various reasons, making these factors important by self fulfilling prophesy.
But I would conjecture that even the fear of failure on these particular grounds is only part of the obstacle to trying to succeed. I think, in truth, we not only fear failure and thus don’t try to succeed, but we fear success and for that reason too, don’t try to succeed.
We don’t try, that is, because in part we think trying will be a waste of time because we won’t succeed. But we also don’t try, I suspect, because at some level we think we may succeed, and if we do succeed, it will be harmful or at best useless, and in any event, not highly beneficial.
There are two sides to this. First, we think we may be able to get together and generate mutual aid and coherent action, but, even if we do, we won’t get far in winning a new world anyway—either because there is no new world to be won, or because the opposition is just too damn powerful to overcome. Or, second, we think we may be able to get together, and we may even be effective enough to win a new world, but, if we are, we will just usher in even worse outcomes than those we currently endure.
I am not saying that everyone gets up each morning, looks in the mirror, and chants, “we can’t work together. We can’t get along. We can’t overcome repression. We can’t win against powerful opponents. We can’t win anything worthy because there is nothing worthy to win.” I am saying these beliefs, assumptions, fears, and worries, inhabit our minds and guts and keep us separate and weak, and they do this even when we don’t admit they are there, much less when we explicitly express them.
So what is to be done? Well, there are three pretty obvious ways out of this largely emotional and psychological cul de sac.
• First, we can seriously assess history and society, our visions and our own inclinations and capacities, and in a reasoned manner, come to the conclusion that the idea we can’t win a better world is pure nonsense. We can. We must. And we will.
• Alternatively, we can arrive at the same mindset by a different route—a kind of faith. Call it optimism of the will if you want. Call it religious. Call it whatever you wish. We can simply have faith and have that annihilate our fears.
• Third, we can ignore our fears and worries, even as they do persist, and simply act as though they are not there. Why would we ignore our persisting, rational, worries? Because if they are true, we are doomed. But if they are false, our large scale inaction is the problem—and our large scale inaction is a problem we can try to solve.
Maybe organizational coherence has been a worthy and appropriate aim for a long time, but whether it has or not, it is certainly an appropriate aim now. We don’t need a few good folks exerting to the hilt, thinking, conceiving, acting—and multitudes of other folks following in their parade. We need a whole lot of good folks, really a whole whole lot, all thinking, conceiving, acting, and, to the extent they find the space to personally do so, locally, nationally, and internationally exerting to the hilt, together.
We need a participatory movement, projects, and organization, and there is no way to have these other than for all the people who could sign on to the above listed points to rise above our doubts and fears, and not just to join some project or some movement, but to together join and create an organization embodying all the views mentioned earlier, and more, as the case may be.
So, okay, think back to the stadium we are all in. We have arrived at our shared commitments. We elaborate them some. We pledge to refine and develop them together. And we ask – how many are on board?
If the above makes sense to all of us, or most of us, or a nice sector of us, or really any of us, in our hypothetical giant stadium or, if the best we can now assemble is more like a large auditorium, we should formulate a possible approach. That is where the above conjectures and assessments seem to me to lead. It really isn’t apocalyptic or overdramatic to say: If not now, when? If not you, who
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Occupy was an almost stadium situation. If only the above was passed around or delivered as a speech. There really seems to be a marked difference between those who believe we can change the world by just doing things in the present, bit by bit with no clear visionary goal and those who believe a clear visionary goal is needed. The latter folk appear to me to be a far smaller bunch. Maybe there’s also something in that as well that inhibits what Michael is saying. It’s just easier, mentally, psychologically, intellectually, to adopt a kind of practical pragmatic, I can do a bit of this and that, community economics, simplicity folk attitude and approach, than hold to a specific vision with needed strategy. A trial and error approach than a visionary one.
I don’t know. Occupy could have been that stadium sort of but it felt as though most just weren’t into vision and strategy at all.