At last month’s socialist book club we read Hegemony How-To by Jonathon Matthew Smucker. It was not a strictly socialist book, but it did provide an interesting perspective on how to build a broad-based movement, which we must do.
Smucker begins by first describing how he became a radical and how insular radicalism can become. His experience was through religious based organizations, including the DC Catholic Worker House. After building his skill set he ended up as part of Occupy Wall Street and was instrumental in getting the message out. His stories are quite interesting on how Occupy failed and succeeded (the 99% meme in particular). He leaves out the later accomplishments of some of the work group, especially the one that contributed a large volume of comments to the new Consumer Financial Regulatory Board. He shows why demands are key, probably more key than any action and what happens when you don’t have them.
One of his major concerns is insularity and its need to get arrested in civil disobedience, including property damage, and how that turns off a larger audience. He spends a lot of time on the organizational culture of movements. Indeed, this could be a case study using the Cultural Theory of Mary Douglass and Aaron Wildavsky. He captures egalitarianism well, as well as the despotism and libertarianism of the right-wing. He also identifies the need for fashion in rebellion. If we did not have them, I would suggest that DSA get t-shirts or maybe sell them a bit more aggressively.
His mention of elections as an organizing tool is spot on. Both the Bernie Sanders campaign and the resistance to Donald Trump show how this can be a unifying factor. Of course, while hard-core radicals
Smucker argues for more inclusion and the making of alliances, even if they don’t buy into 100% of the program. Whether one is insular or allied is the difference between wide success and self-justification. For example, my great-grandfather, Silas Locke Allen, helped organize both the Land O Lakes dairy farmer cooperative and the American Farm Bureau Federation. He took the wider view. His son, my grandfather, Jerry Brown Allen, had plans for a single Christian cooperative. He took a small view and it never happened.
The civil rights movement is an example of large scale federations. I have a few examples to share. Sometimes movements can be captured by government. Stand Up for Democracy in Washington DC! was created to do a march in September 1998 to protest the Control Board taking over direct government from the Mayor. There were a few movements evolving on their own and the local congresswoman created a united front. After the march, it kept going and she became upset, as did her AA, when we started making demands of her. This led to the creation of DC Vote! and its cramped agenda for voting rights. StandUp! still exists and has a list of demands, with Free DC’s Budget being the signature one (my phrase). A few of them have been met and the new Mayor’s drive to statehood is a good sign.
An older civil rights victory was when the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party got two of its delegates seated at the 1968 convention in Chicago (which was overshadowed by the protests - my example). They won the battle and lost war, as the white segregationists in the party fled to the Republicans. Not sure that this is a defeat, however. Good riddance to bad trash. Some coalitions die and deserve to, like the old Democratic one.
The civil rights movement had a problem later on with the question of gay marriage (my example). President Obama did not run on this, even though he believed in it. It took Vice President Biden and a lot of quiet work for the black pastors who are largely socially conservative to move into the pro-side, or at least to let the President do so. Talk about coalition building! Sadly, the Obama coalition did not help Hillary Clinton. She did not put someone from his coalition on the ticket and it cost her the election.
The next frontier in large scale organizing, according to Smucker, is to build a coalition around class issues. How do we do that? I suggest we Occupy Capitalism. This coalition must go beyond political organizing to and form an economic coalition, like the capitalists do.
We can start by radicalizing employee-owned firms, unionized firms (and unions) and cooperatives, farm and non-farm alike. We can educate them on expanding democracy in the workplace, so that both CEOs and supervisors are elected rather than appointed by the hierarchy after an open auction to bid down (rather than bidding up) their wages.
We can educate them about explicit and implicit choices around what to consume, which will dictate what to produce (and what to buy, both individually and cooperatively). These decisions are made implicitly now, it is time to make them explicit. We need to go beyond credit unions and away from banks to emloyee-owned firms, et al, offering direct mortgage and consumer credit at no interest, provided ownership is 100% of employee members. We can offer environmental solutions on housing, transporation and food production that reduce our footprint, carbon and otherwise.
We can unite the coalition of these companies to replace the Taft-Hartley Act and amend ERISA to allow more concentrated ownership of the means of production. We can offer redirecting a portion of the employer contribution to Social Security toward employee stock ownership (with an equal distribution, regardless of wage and insurance fund holding a third of these shares).
We can have cooperative employers pay for all education after sophomore year in college and all technical education, with stipends included, in exchange for s service commitment, backed up by a federal loan program if the employment. We can recommend shifting to stock grants for actual accomplishment, rather than paying knowledge workers more for their education (with further stock grants for educational attainment). From each according to their ability.
We can call for an expanded refundable child tax credit, paid with an employer net business reciepts tax (subtraction VAT) of $1000 per child per month (with indexing for inflation) and dare the pro-lifers to reject it. To each according to their need.
Rather than repeal Citizens United, we can shove it down the capitalists throats until they beg us to repeal it. Maybe after we buy them all out.
The hardest thing, of course, is to get people to notice that there is another way. Once they know, they will join us on the journey. Let’s invite them.