Method of activism pt. 2 — practicum

(10:00PM EST – promoted by Nightprowlkitty)

continued from part 1

No, these affairs did not grip all of American society.  Most people tried to go about their daily lives.  But these matters gripped the activists, and the activists were in motion, and the activists set the tone.  Not that we were better people.  Social motion allowed us to try different tactics and see what worked.  Decisions were thrust upon us whether we wanted them or not.

We HAD to address:

What kind of society should America be?

participatory democracy


social democracy




humane capitalism

back to the farm?

Stupid arguments.  Loud arguments.  Smart arguments.  Old wheels dragged out and re-invented, new wheels imagined.

Tactics had to be figured out, because they were both possible and necessary:





general strike

bloody revolutions


rural communes

broad coalitions

vanguard party?

There was a lot of wrangling over the relationship between tactics and strategy.  And what’s a tactic and what’s a strategy?


where was capitalism headed

was imperialism a necessary feature of capitalism

could human nature be transformed

was the system too strong

was the economy on a course of terminal collapse or eternal growth?

What were the key sectors (vanguard to some) whose mobilization would ensure change:

college students


Blacks and Latinos and 3rd world revolutionaries

factory workers

white collar workers (new working class)



the poor?

What were the key issues:


boring schools



war in Vietnam

factory oppression

drug laws


3rd world oppression?

Marxism became popular, both for its merits and its shortcomings, including its touching faith in revolutionary inevitability:





communal (utopian) socialism

3rd world revolutionaries allied with the Soviet Union

3rd world revolutionaries allied with China?

And was the Communists Party USA an ally or an overt enemy?

Demands had to be formulated.  You couldn’t just take over the Administration Building for the hell of it (well, you could, but …):

revolution now


free sex

smaller classrooms

end the war and all oppression

transitional programs (reformist demands you know can’t be met)?

The understanding of transitional demands was very important.  Then the organizational question:

community organization

rural communes

single-issue organizations

constituency (race, sex, orientation)

loose multi-issue (early SDS)

independent electoral parties

faction within Democratic Party

vanguard party

no organization (spontaneous uprising)?

These matters were passionately discussed in every possible combination.  The joint was jumping.  It wasn’t just the ideas that were thrown into the hopper, we ourselves were in the hopper, whether or not by choice.  The most sophisticated were the Marxists, who proposed a central organization that could coordinate different social sectors and issues, changing them as events developed, until the revolution.  Unfortunately, revolution was not in the cards.

Perhaps the wisest were the cultural revolutionaries.

Perhaps the best leaders were the women.

Fundamental errors obscured all our understanding.  Extreme militancy does not equal revolution.  Going to the barricades to win reforms is, well, reformist.  It may improve the social order, but it does not transform it.  .  Some of us learned it too late in the game.  We came to understand our fundamental weakness — a primarily student-based movement can light a spark, but cannot by itself transform society.  We knew it, wrestled hard with it, couldn’t beat it.

Still, let me extract an arbitrary checklist here for analyzing tactics and causes.

1. What kind of society should America be, and where was it heading?

2. What kind of organization do we need to get there (short term or long term)?

3. What would be the key sectors of society to organize? (not all sectors are equal)

4. What would be the key issues?

5. What would be key demands (reformist, revolutionary, transitional)?

6. What tactics should we use?

7. What would the developmental process look like?

Then let me try to apply some of this to issues people are raising today.  This is an exercise in method.  If I fail to do justice to anyone’s favorite, please improve on it.

3rd party

1.  This would depend on the purpose of the 3rd party:  socialism?  reform the Democratic Party?  an improved welfare state?    Depends on the prospects for democracy itself.

2.  That would depend on purpose.  Some kind of organizing committee, obviously.  Would the purpose be to form a brand new party?  Take over the Green Party?  Form a coalition of 3rd parties?

The constitution of this committee would also depend on the following questions.

3.  If the goals were taking over the Greens or forming a grand coalition, the key sector would be articulate intellectuals who would be adept at the kind of maneuvering to carry it off.  If the goal were a new, clean party, then the most unrepresented sector is the poor.  The key leadership would have to be nuts-and-bolts activists, as the poor do not generate these spontaneously.  There would be an extended period while poor cadre were developed and moved into leadership positions.

4.  Jobs.  Social safety net.  Healthcare.

5.  Strong and uncompromising demands, related to 4 above.

6.  Formation of community base organizations that would provide the base for militant, angry electoral campaigns, coordinated with militant direct actions.

7.  An alternative to much of the above would be to create a 3rd party by creating a major breakaway from the Democratic Party.  That opens up a vast array of issues concerning how to work within the Democratic Party.

work within the Democratic Party

1.  Can fork into liberal social democracy or socialism.  Can fork into taking over or influencing the Democratic Party, or splitting the party.  Depends on the prospects for democracy itself.

2.  Form the Independent Progressive Caucus within the Democratic Party.

3.  Angry Democrats, mostly middle class.

4.  Democratic Party has sold out on x, y and z.

5.  Don’t sell out on x, y and z.

6.  Run in primaries, join or create local Democratic clubs.  Fight for delegates at party gatherings, run in races where the DP has small presence.

7.  Small or large inroads, depending on ability to build an independent base, at a point of social crisis, making a move to split, starting with a militant primary, when the Democratic Party is clearly against its base AND when the independent forces are strong enough to sustain a 3rd party, including at a minimum gaining ballot status in 50 states in no longer than 4 years.  This approach will be particularly prone to factional splits.

don’t vote

1.  Liberal social democracy or socialism or rural communes existing alongside urban society.

2.  Form the United Front Committee to Keep In the Vote.

3.  The angry middle class, who feel they are caught between forces out of their control

4.  Corruption of the electoral process.  Corruption of the political parties.

5.  Don’t vote.

6.  A wide publicity campaign.  Non-voting has to be voluntary, anything looking like intimidating or overtly hindering voters would provoke righteous backlash.

7:  This is not a viable plan as stand-alone.  There remains the question of what should be done instead of voting.  Alignment with other organizations is the only way this can ultimately be meaningful.  UNLESS the not voting is intended to show dissatisfaction with particular policies in a particular election, e.g., revenge against the Democrats for the healthcare debacle.

General strike:

1.  A general strike is a drastic action, calling for millions to take significant risk, but wielding great power if carried out successfully.  Thus some kind of socialism or social democracy would be appropriate.

2.  Since a general strike is illegal, it would require some tight-knit body that can maintain a high level of security.  It would require at least some mass organizations to mobilize a critical mass.  Whether that would include existing organizations such as key unions (communications, transit, airlines) or new revolutionary organizations would in part depend on point 3.

3.  If the threatened middle class was key, they could perhaps be mobilized against Wall Street, foreclosures and taxes through existing vehicles.  If the poor were the key sector, new organizations would have to be built representing the poor.

4.  If the middle class, as noted above, Wall Street, foreclosures and taxes.  If the poor, jobs and safety net for all.

5.  If the poor, a job, healthcare, food as basic human rights.  No compromise.

6.  To enforce 5 above, militant tactics.  An extended period of demonstrations and sit-downs to build for the big day.  Then a strike integrated with seizure of key transportation and communication centers, followed by a mass effort to ensure delivery of food, water and electricity.

7:  No single sector or tactic or demand could pull this off.  If would require the highest level of organizational coordination among many sectors, including the poor, the middle class, unions, and high-level professional to lead to anything but destructive societal collapse.

General strike is no toy.  It will leave a bodycount on BOTH sides.

End the atrocities committed by the U.S. in the Middle East

1.  America should be a humane society.  This direction has heavy implications for what the potential impact would be on the U.S. economy if it withdrew from the Middle East and lost what control it has over the oil fields.  It would also have inter-related implications for the economy and the so-called Defense budget.  Could put socialism on the table.

2.  There are existing organizations doing good work on this.  But they work in isolation, despite the fact that the Democratic base is not happy about our various wars.  It would be desirable to create an electoral vehicle that could bring these issues into the electoral mainstream.

3.  College youth, union members, the poor.

4.  Our wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, policy towards Israel.

5.  Stop killing women and children to ensure corporate profit!  U.S. troops out!

6.  Dramatic direct actions such as the Gaza March, tying them to the complicity in atrocities by the Democratic Party.

7.  As the bodycount rises in Afghanistan, the issue is getting more coverage, and people are becoming more outraged at our GOVERNMENT, rather than just at Bush, there will be an increase in militancy.  Tactical smarts will be key, as this is potentially explosive.  I’ve used some of the above examples for illustrative purposes.  This one I feel very, very passionate about.

Ironically, this one is both marginal and central simultaneously.

and then …

The above examples are crude.  I’ve not done full justice to any of them, and I hope that proponents of each might take the exercise further.  I don’t especially want to quarrel over details.

The concept of transitional demands deserves much more discussion.

One phenomenon I’ve seen is that someone says let’s do this, and people say yeah, right on, and someone else says let’s do that, and people say that’s great, go for it, and another person says we need to support this, and on and on.  And it doesn’t go any further.  Based on comments and recommends, you even have some of the same people supporting mutually exclusive approaches.  No, I don’t take this as a sign of madness or senility.  Rather, I take it as a healthy thirst for action.  If each suggestion and so many more are put through this analytical wringer, I think people might start to see ways issues can be combined, common organizations can push related issues, directions clarified, approaches developed that embrace the entire American people.  We might conceive of how events could transform over time.  It could get us out of the Frozen Storm (Muller).  We weren’t better people then.  Or to turn that around, we’re just as good a people now as we were then!

Oh yeah, the Full Court Press.  It puts organization and tactics up front.  I’ve elaborated elsewhere.  It is only a tactic, one I believe in, but no substitute for a strategy.  Throw it in the hopper if you wish.

But here’s my two cents about what I think is needed:  an organization with a clear vision for the future, an appraisal of coming social dynamics, an organization that has a mass membership or affiliation with mass membership subsidiaries, that can support a broad range of issues and a broad range of tactics, appropriately as the movement is created and develops.

I take it seriously.  I take it seriously enough that I will avoid further speculation because I do not believe that the objective conditions even exist for a such a discussion.  But for extra credit, as it pertains to all of the above if you’ve tried to apply the above exercises yourselves, how do we translate our electronic presence into material force?

Or to quote Chairman Archimedes:  “Give me a place to stand and I can move the world!”


  1. I’m so glad NPK brought up your essay — I’m gonna’ go over every single point you’ve made and try and digest it!  But, I want to, first of all, thank you for this magnanimous effort!

    There are others of us who TRY to touch on these efforts:  NB:  There They Went Again & Again & Again…  


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