Noam Chomsky’s opening remarks to the World Social Forum, April 29, 2022:
For 20 years, the motto of the world social forum has been another world is possible… As we meet today that question is overshadowed by another one. Is this world possible? And the answer is “no.” This world is not possible. This world is hurdling to self-annihilation. And only the creation of another world can reverse this course. Luckily, another world is still possible, though the chances of achieving it are diminishing at an ominous rate.
The fate of humanity is at a crossroads. Humanity is confronted with two imminent existential crises: climate catastrophe and nuclear war. The corporate capitalist system is producing an assault on the earth’s ecology, perpetual war, ever-widening inequality, an attack on democracy, and a rise in fascism. If humanity does not address these crises NOW, human civilization is unlikely to survive for future generations.
To save the future, the People of the world must defeat a capitalist ruling class led by the United States which is hell-bent on destroying the Earth.
Capitalism is complex and produces a multitude of oppressions. There are thousands of liberatory organizations working on important issues. But we cannot assume these projects are going to organically coalesce into a whole capable of taking power from greed-driven corporate capitalists. In the face of these existential crises, our time for “organizing the organized” is short.
The fundamental question facing humanity is: “how can ordinary working people organize on the mass scale necessary to contest for power with the corporate capitalist elite and force the change needed to save the future?”
This essay is a beginning attempt to answer the question with a focus on organizing in the U.S. In addition, it is a call for a “Left” dialog regarding the “organization-to-scale question.” We need to imagine the mass organizing institutions needed both nationally and internationally for working people to contest for power.
Corporate Capitalism, The Existential Threats, and the Common-Sense Solutions Not Taken… Yet
Global corporate capitalism led by the hegemonic state, the United States, is a fundamentally immoral and irrational system. In capitalism, both states and corporations are designed to maximize short-term power and profits for the super-wealthy corporate elite. The ideology assumes the benefits will trickle down to working people. In practice, capitalism prioritizes short-term profits for the wealthy over the well-being of the people and even the survival of the human species. In all realms of society, corporate capitalism is unable to take common-sense actions to prevent predictable crises when doing so undermines short-term power and profits (e.g., fortifying the sea wall in New Orleans to prevent flooding when hurricanes hit, regulating factory meat production to prevent the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, organizing a strong global public health system to prevent pandemics, outlawing automatic and semiautomatic guns to prevent massacres, eliminating debt-driven speculation that has repeatedly crashed the global economy, using diplomacy to prevent foreseeable wars). Likewise, the apocalyptic threats of climate catastrophe and nuclear war are worsening, and capitalism is not taking the bold action necessary to stop humanity’s march towards species self-annihilation.
Global warming is destroying the capacity of the earth to support humans and other life. Distinguished climate scientist James Hansen recently summarized the science from an expert report he had prepared for the court case Juliana v. United States, in which a group of young plaintiffs sued the government for not protecting their right to a livable future. Man-made greenhouse gasses, mostly CO2, are trapping heat in the earth’s atmosphere at an accelerating rate. A 2022 report by United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated that humanity must take swift action. To limit global temperature rise to 2°C (3.6°F), global greenhouse emissions must start declining before 2025. The longer humanity delays decisive action, the greater the risk that progressive climate warming will become irreversible. There are almost daily reports of dramatic changes in the earth’s environment indicating that the climate catastrophe is accelerating now.
The possibility of an omnicide nuclear war has also been increasing. There are currently nine countries with nuclear weapons. The launch of one nuclear weapon can trigger a series of retaliations resulting in a global nuclear holocaust. Over the last 70 years, there have been multiple close calls, in which the decision of one person averted nuclear war. With both Democratic and Republican support, the United States has committed to modernizing its nuclear weapons arsenal triggering a new global nuclear arms race. At the start of 2022 before the Ukraine War, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, which maintains the “Doomsday Clock,” warned, “the Clock remains the closest it has ever been to civilization-ending apocalypse because the world remains stuck in an extremely dangerous moment.” Moreover, the current proxy war between the United States and Russia greatly increases the likelihood of the accidental or purposeful use of nuclear weapons. A nuclear exchange between the United States and Russia would end human civilization. Undoubtedly, the doomsday clock will tick closer to “midnight” in 2023.
The good news is humanity can prevent these crises and in doing so create a more democratic, loving, caring, and sustainable society. IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee reported “We are at a crossroads. The decisions we make now can secure a livable future. We have the tools and know-how required to limit warming.”
The solution to the climate catastrophe is a government-led third industrial revolution that quickly transitions the oil, gas, and coal-powered economy to a solar and wind-powered economy. The principal technological challenges to implementing a global Green New Deal (GND) are (1) building the solar and wind energy generation capacity to power society, (2) creating a digital energy grid for managing intermittent energy across the system, (3) upgrading buildings, transportation, and other infrastructure to support and be compatible with the new green energy system, and (4) dismantle the old oil, gas and coal industries while safeguarding a just transition for workers in those industries. The GND is potentially the basis for a high-wage full-employment economy empowering workers for decades to come. Many authors have described the possible nuts-and-bolts implementation of the GND.
The solution to preventing a nuclear war omnicide is developing international peace agreements and institutions for implementing the agreements based on the concept of common security, “the idea that nations and populations can only feel safe when their counterparts feel safe.” The ultimate goal is nuclear disarmament. International peace groups have recently released a Common Security 2022 Report which details many common-sense steps that can be taken to achieve common security. During the Cold War, pressure from the international peace movement pushed the U.S. and U.S.S.R. to negotiate a series of nuclear arms control treaties that reduced the risk of nuclear war. Part of the context of the build-up to the current war in Ukraine was the U.S. unilaterally withdrawing from several of these nuclear arms control treaties. Possibly, the war in Ukraine could have been averted if the U.S. and E.U. would have been willing to reach a negotiated settlement that took into consideration Russia’s security concerns.
The Attack on Democracy and the Politics of Inaction
Despite the available common-sense solutions, politicians and corporate elites are not taking the necessary steps to avert catastrophe. The United States, the dominant nation-state in the world system, is leading humanity down a path of self-destruction. The two-party political system in the U.S. is controlled by a very rich corporate capitalist ruling class. The ruling class, in particular factions associated with the fossil fuel, military, and financial industries, oppose addressing the climate and nuclear war crises because it would undermine their wealth and power and possibly the dominant position of the U.S. in the global capitalist system.
At this historical moment, the Republican Party’s top concern is its own perceived existential threat. The demographics of the U.S. are changing. Republican strongholds such as Georgia and Texas are hitting the tipping point in which Whites are no longer the majority. The Republicans fear that their coalition of the rich, White Christian nationalists, and White populists is not large enough to maintain their power democratically. Consequently, they are committed to dismantling democracy and institutionalizing a form of minority rule. The January 6, 2021 coup attempt was just the most dramatic manifestation of a party-wide commitment to ending democracy in the U.S.
As described by voting rights reporter Ari Berman in Mother Jones, since 2020, the Republicans have been implementing a “slow coup.” Emboldened by the ultra conservative supreme court which declared political gerrymandering legal, in Republican-controlled states, the Republicans are creating the legal foundations for a “New Jim Crow” minority rule with four primary strategies: allowing the rich and corporations to spend unlimited money in elections literally buying politicians, extreme gerrymandering, voter suppression laws making it more difficult for people of color and other disenfranchised groups to vote and ensuring that election counts are under the administration of Republican-appointed election officials. With a rigged electoral system and control over the Supreme Court for at least the next several decades, Republicans are emboldened to remake the U.S. in their image. The repeal of Roe v. Wade is just a step towards their goal to dismantle human and civil rights. A series of supreme court rulings over the last decade has been building the legal foundation for authoritarian rule in the U.S.
To many Democrats, the Republicans appear crazy and disconnected from reality. QAnon, Stop-the-Steal, Anti-Masks, Anti-Vaccinations, and White Supremacist History Denial are all obviously factually wrong. Even crazier, the Republican anti-public health stance seems self-defeating, causing tens of thousands of deaths among Republicans.
However, the Republican culture of crazy is a political choice. It immunizes Republican opinion from counterfactual information and creates a narrative in which the Republicans, specifically White people, are the defensive victims. It is an ideological framework that energizes high citizen engagement and justifies radical action, including violence.
Tragically, the Democratic Party is not a clear alternative to the Republican Party for promoting multicultural multiracial working-class interests, defending democracy, or protecting the Earth. The Democratic Party coalition is made up of Silicon Valley and Wall Street elite, the suburban professional-managerial class (white-collar workers), and a multicultural working-class base. The essential contradiction of the Democratic Party is that the rich fund and run the party while its voting base is the multicultural working class. Thus, the common dynamic in the Democratic Party is that the progressive wing pushes for legislation to empower the working class while the corporate wing cooperates with Republicans to stop reform. Gridlock prevails, frustrating working-class voters.
This dynamic has played out again under the Biden administration. When Biden was elected, there was hope his administration would address working-class priorities. Senators Manchin and Sinema refused to overturn the Senate filibuster to pass the Build Back Better bill. Working people would have benefited from Build Back Better in many ways. The bill created over 7 million jobs over 10 years, funded free pre-school for children and free community college, expanded Medicare and Medicaid, lowered prescription drugs costs, made child tax credits permanent, created 12 weeks of paid family leave, invested in affordable housing, and gave incentives for buying electric cars and other climate initiatives. Without the passage of Build Back Better, at the end of 2021, a pandemic child tax credit that was giving 35 million families 250 to 300 a month expired.
Regarding inflation, according to progressive economist Robert Pollin, the Federal Reserve’s recent interest rate hike is another example of government policy that prioritizes the interests of the rich over the working class. The FED interest rate hike is designed to increase the unemployment rate which will decrease workers’ bargaining power and thus lower worker wages. This policy undermines labor organizing and increases the likelihood of a recession. It also does not address corporate causes of the inflation including disruptions in poorly planned supply chains and monopoly price-gauging, particularly by oil companies.
The corporate Democrats are not organizing a serious fight back against the Republican attack on disenfranchised groups and democracy. A Republican senate filibuster killed two voting rights bills. Many voter rights advocates have expressed frustration with the Biden Administration’s refusal to forcefully lead on the defense of voting rights. Again, the problem is that robust voting rights would empower the multiracial working-class majority, thus threatening the interests of the corporate elite in the Democratic Party. The corporate Democratic elite cannot create the political condition in which voters could actually demand that the Democrats deliver on policies that are highly popular among its base (e.g., universal healthcare, 15-dollar minimum wage, voter rights, the right to unionize, finance regulation) because those policies are opposed by their rich donors. Even on core values such as the right to an abortion, corporate Democrats have a long history of prioritizing collegial cooperation with Republicans over fighting for fundamental rights.
The corporate Democratic elite view Bernie Sanders’ attempt to unify the party based on a multiracial working-class agenda as an existential threat to their power. In the 2022 primaries, corporate Democrats and Republican political action committees have worked hard to defeat progressive candidates.
As an alternative to class politics, corporate Democrats have promoted a unifying Cold War-like narrative demonizing Russia, glorifying militarism, and “defending democracy” (U.S. hegemony) globally. The corporate Democrats believe they are more responsible stewards of the global capitalist system than Trump. From their perspective, this is evident in their willingness to “stand up to Russia.” Demonstrating this “resolve,” the Biden administration refused to negotiate regarding the possibility of Ukrainian neutrality in the lead-up to the Ukraine War. We don’t know if a settlement could have been reached, however, a diplomatic effort that addressed Russia’s primary security concern was not even tried.
The Ukraine War is a disaster for global peace and security, and U.S. democracy. With high-minded moralistic and triumphalist rhetoric, the Biden administration has transformed the conflict into a proxy war with the goal of regime change in Russia. Pursuing a war to defeat Russia creates the situation in which nuclear weapons are most likely to be used thereby ending human civilization. The Democratic Party is transmuting itself into the War Party and the war is making the day-to-day stress of working people of all races and nationalities worse in the midst of a pandemic. A quagmire war in Ukraine increases the likelihood that the Republicans will win the elections in both 2022 and 2024.
In sum, the two-party system functions as a racist divide-and-conquer strategy that breeds conflict, anger, cynicism, and alienation. Because neither party clearly represents the multicultural multiracial working class’s interests, politics is dominated by the Republican “cultural war,” scapegoating people of color, immigrants, the LBGTQ community, and women. Many working people never see their interests represented in the system and stop voting and participating in politics. Over the last 40 years, the country has moved rightward.
In a speech given in 2018, Angela Davis reminded us that an alternative politic centered in the common interests of the multicultural multiracial working class is possible. She stated:
Feminist theories and organizing approaches have helped us understand the deep connections that link… struggles. Given the demagoguery emanating from our current government and the explicit exploitation of racism and xenophobia to persuade poor, working-class white populations that their interests call for an attack on racialized communities. It is important to point out that the suffering of poor, White, and working-class communities has been caused pretty much by the same economic phenomena that are responsible for the rise of mass incarceration, the prison industrial complex, and for the reasons that lead people from Central America, Mexico, elsewhere in the global south to migrate to other countries.
Toward A Multicultural Multiracial Working Class United Progressive Front and the Campaign to Save the Future
This moment demands the formation of a United Progressive Front (UPF), a unified coalition of progressive civic, human rights, and labor groups, independent of the Democratic Party to launch a Campaign to Save the Future. Both the Republicans and the Democratic Party are pushing the world towards self-annihilation. Only a movement organized in a mass democratic institution committed to representing the interests of the super-majority multicultural multiracial working class can inspire the hope, participation, discipline, and solidarity necessary to force system change now.
The great challenge the “Left” must take on is to develop a mass unifying social change strategy in the context of the sclerotic two-party system designed to preserve capitalist power and prevent social change. Historically, the U.S. Left has failed this task. It is this generation’s historical mission to try again… and succeed. As Marx wrote, “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.”
The 2022 and 2024 elections are incredibly important. Without a massive Democrat turnout to stop the Republicans in 2022 and 2024, the Republicans will further rig elections and solidify their domination of government for at least a generation. With Republicans in power, humanity has little hope of stopping the climate catastrophe. In early primaries, Republicans are turning out at a higher rate than Democrats.
In the short run, the UPF must focus on organizing the mass voter turnout necessary to defeat the Republicans. People will act if they understand the stakes in 2022 and 2024 and if they believe the multiracial working class has the mass institutional capacity and solidarity necessary to be effective. In 2020, many voters said, “I like Bernie’s ideas, but I don’t think he can win.” What they were saying is “I don’t think the multiracial working class has the institutional capacity and solidarity necessary to battle capital.” Mass action and a common political agenda inspire hope and participation. For example, millions of people acted in the Black Lives Matters protests. We need to institutionalize that spirit, so “the People” can act in unison day in and day out. Everyone must understand that mass voting is a necessary but not sufficient tactic for defending democracy and saving the world. The multiracial working class is the majority. If we vote en masse, we win.
The UPF will need to democratically decide on clear demands, a media campaign, a get-out-the-vote campaign, and a street-mobilization strategy. Clear demands will put pressure on both the Democratic and Republican parties. For example, the UPF can have mass rallies demanding that the government and FED maintain a full-employment economy and fight inflation by stopping monopoly price gouging.
There needs to be a clarion call to action. The UPF will need to create a detailed plan for coordinating on-the-ground organizing in urban, suburban, and rural working-class neighborhoods. Coalition partners should reach out personally to activists who participated in Black Lives Matter protests and the Bernie and Warren campaigns but who stopped participating in activism during the pandemic. Coalition partners should ask them to get active again and help lead the UPF. The alternative media will have to report daily on the Campaign to Save the Future as relentlessly as the Right trumpets “Stop the Steal.” There are already many local grassroots groups working on getting out the vote for 2022. There needs to be a common website to go to where activists can figure out how they can plug into campaigns and the get-out-the-vote effort. In sum, the goal is to create an institutional home for a self-conscience multiracial working class to come together and organize as a democratic mass movement. A unified competent organization will inspire hope and participation.
As a mass multiracial working-class voting block independent from the Democratic Party with a street presence, the coalition will have the power to pressure the Democratic Party to address core working-class demands. If the multiracial working class regularly voted en masse, it would dramatically change U.S. politics. In 2016, “unmarried women, Millennials (aged 18–34), African Americans, Latinos, and all other people of color” represented 59.2 percent of the eligible voting population.” In 2004, it was 44.6%. A study of the 2016 presidential election by the Poor People’s Campaign found that if the low-income population voted at the same rate as the high-income population and they voted against the winning party, they could have flipped the winner in 15 states.
I hope the UPF will also demand that the U.S. negotiate directly with Russia to end the Ukraine War. Wars end either in negotiated settlements or the complete defeat of one side. The current Biden policy of pushing for the defeat of Russia increases the likelihood of a nuclear war, a long quagmire war, and exponentially more death and destruction in Ukraine. To resolve the climate/nuclear war crisis, the U.S. needs a new foreign policy based on diplomacy and compromise, not global military hegemony.
Some will argue that it is useless to organize for the election because the Democrats are not much better than the Republicans or the Left should focus on labor instead of electoral organizing. There is some truth in these arguments. However, we need to organize in the world as it is. There is no possibility that the Republicans will ever address the climate/nuclear war crises. The Republicans are fundamentally committed to climate change denial, militarism, racism, attacking immigrants, and replacing democracy with authoritarian rule. Also, it is difficult to imagine how organized labor can make gains under a Republican administration. Historically, mass people’s movements have been able to pressure the Democrats to pass some progressive policies.
In the two-party system, the multicultural working class has two main enemies, the corporate Democrats and the corporate Republicans. The Left does not have the power to beat them at the same time. The strategy implemented by Sanders and the Squad is to take the corporate Democrats on in the primaries and the Republicans in the general election. It means making defensive votes (voting for the lesser of two evils) when an offensive vote option (voting for candidates that you really want) is not available. It is harder to motivate people to vote in defensive elections. Working people are more likely to turn out for every election if they understand that mass voting is part of the UPF’s long-term strategy for contesting for power with the capitalist class. In the long run, if the UPF can organize a super-majority multiracial working class voting bloc, it can then decide whether the best strategy is to take over the Democratic Party or form a third party.
Building the Institutional Capacity and Solidarity Necessary to Save the Future
The first step to a collective agreement to form the UPF is collective acceptance of the fact that as currently organized, the Left cannot build the power necessary to avert the climate catastrophe/nuclear war crises. Historically, the Left in the U.S. is fractured. We have thousands of organizations working on many important issues. But we have never had an umbrella coalition or institution to form a united multicultural working-class identity grounded in a common political project.
There is no workers’ party in the U.S. due to both repression and the straight jacket of the two-party system. The good cop, bad cop winner-take-all system prevents the development of a mass third party. In parliamentary systems with proportional representations, third parties can grow organically over years accumulating power from election to election. In a two-party system, even a tiny third party can act as a spoiler taking enough votes from the lesser evil party to give elections to the more evil party. Most voters do not want to gamble on a third party.
On the Left, there is a practical comfort with fragmentation. It is easy to default to an ethos of “Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom.” There are many types of oppression. It makes sense for an activist to focus on issues that hit “closest to home.” Activism and democracy are hard, even in small groups of like-minded people. Developing a uniting political project is fraught with difficulty. There will be conflict. Working through it and staying united will be challenging.
Yet, over the last 10 years, there has been a palpable yearning for a common political project of a united multicultural working class. The Occupy Wall Street slogan was, “We are the 99%.” The 2016 and 2020 Sanders presidential campaigns and 2020 Warren campaign were exciting because they contested for multiracial working-class power at the national level. Millions of people donated to and joined the campaigns. After 2016, motivated by Bernie Sanders’ success in the primary and the threat of Trump, there was an upsurge in Left organizing in the U.S. New national groups such as Indivisible, Our Revolution, and Justice Democrats formed and established groups such as Democratic Socialists of America and Working Families Party grew and became more active. In the wake of the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, Black Lives Matter organized the largest street mobilization in U.S. history. One study found that the Black Lives Matter, labor, and other protests played a role in motivating people to vote for Biden in 2020.
Historically, there are many examples of the Left’s fractured organizational structure limiting its ability to contest for power and win. The 2020 Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren primary campaigns never united. The corporate Democrats united behind Biden and won. After the election of Biden in 2020, the Left did not organize an independent mass mobilization to demand the multiracial working-class agenda (e.g., the Green New Deal, voter rights, Protecting the Right to Organize Act, student debt relief, a $15 minimum wage, Medicare for All, etc.) Instead, progressive groups deferred to the Democratic Party’s inside-Washington DC deal-making political strategy. No long-standing multiracial working-class priorities passed. The activist base was demoralized or turned their attention to local struggles.
Hopefully, the UPF coalition can evolve into a permanent uniting organization, a proto-party. In an essay entitled “A Blueprint for a New Party,” Seth Ackerman presented a strategy for building a nationwide multicultural working-class proto-party. He discussed the long history of the Left’s inability to organize a uniting institution in the two-party system. He argued that a new party could incorporate as a social welfare organization, a 501(c)(4), democratically adopt a platform, and then make case-by-case decisions about running candidates in a major party primary or as an independent. Adopting this strategy, the new party could minimize the possibility that their candidates would be “spoilers.”
A new proto-party would give the united multiracial working class an institutional home that could take on the crises of climate catastrophe, nuclear war, and democracy head-on. It could operate independently of the Democratic Party and compete for power in the Democratic Party. It would give working people a democratic forum to work through differences and craft a united political strategy distinct from the corporate agenda. The proto-party could do both grassroots and electoral organizing and have a street presence. If millions of working people joined the party, it could raise the big money necessary to compete in politics in the U.S. Moreover, it could hire hundreds of organizers to build on-the-ground solidarity and action.
There will be many challenges. The proto-party will have to address the current “race vs. class” debate on the Left. The corporate capitalist elite use racism to “divide us against each other.” A divided multiracial working class cannot contest the capitalist elite’s monopoly on both business and political power which subordinates all working people, Black, Brown, and White. The party will have to develop an independent foreign policy and take on U.S. militarism and imperialism. The people cannot be free or safe at home if the U.S. spends trillions of dollars trying to rule the rest of the world with coercion and violence. The party will have to organize with activist groups globally to forge a new people’s international and devise global actions to pressure capital to save the future (e.g., international boycotts or strikes targeting the U.S.). Globally, the people must demand that climate catastrophe, war, and inequality end now.
To Have a Future, We Must Organize to Scale and Claim the Future
To save the future, the People of the world must defeat a capitalist ruling class led by the United States which is hell-bent on destroying the Earth. Unfortunately, this is not hyperbole. In the U.S. that means organizing the multiracial working-class unity necessary to stop the authoritarian Republican Party from taking power and killing democracy, and an imperialist Democratic Party which is prioritizing U.S. global hegemony and militarism over saving democracy and the planet.
I will end with an example of an on-the-ground call for unity. In 2022, dark money political action committees such as a PAC tied to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee have spent historic amounts of money to defeat progressive candidates in competitive Democratic primaries. For example, in Pennsylvania Congressional District 12, PACs spent over 3 million dollars in a failed attempt to defeat progressive candidate, Summer Lee. Lee won by less than a percentage point. Summing up lessons learned from the campaign, in an episode of the podcast Bloc Party (5/24/2022), Justice Democrat Campaign Director Geoff Simpson stated,
The biggest lesson we can take away from this is there is very little margin for error if we are going to get millions of dollars spent against us on the Left. And it took the whole Left throwing down for Summer in order to get her across the line… That is what it is going to take in future races all of us working together to defeat the other side that has an endless bank account. They can spend unlimited amounts of money… On what can we do better?… The Left … needs to commit earlier in races. Early money is worth so much more than getting money in the last two weeks. It allows you to build campaign infrastructure. It allows you to plan out how you are going to spend those dollars talking to voters across the different mediums that are available. We need the Left to get in sooner on races and invest early and that is going to make us more successful at the end of the race…
Facing our current reality is terrifying. It is understandable that as individuals and communities we struggle with isolation and hopelessness and focus on day-to-day survival and distractions to get by. After two and half years of the pandemic and a criminally negligent corporate and government response, people feel disheartened and alienated.
But our private lives are not a respite from reality. We are living through a pivotal moment in human history. We are responsible to our children’s children’s children to organize a united liberation movement despite the odds. The antidote for our collective existential fear is a mass unified organizational plan to defend democracy and to force the implementation of known technical solutions to the climate and nuclear war catastrophes. Victory will be found in mass institutionalized solidarity.