Volume , Number 0
There are no articles.Commentary
There are no articles.Culture
There are no articles.Features
People's Global Action
Nuclear Nightmare Goes Critical
The Schools We Want
E. Wayne Ross
Signs of a Police State â€¦
Movement Building Is the Only â€¦
In Memory Of Bhopal
An interview with Tahmeena Faryal â€¦
The Threat Of Global State â€¦
Colombia is the third largest â€¦
Airline Layoffs, Worker Concessions
Extending U.S. Dominance
Urgent Patient Tasks
There are no articles.
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Urgent Patient Tasks
The architect wants to know future changes in architectural insights. The militarist wants to know future weapons. The mathematician wants to know future theorems. The musician wants to know future compositional styles. The engineer wants to know future mechanical and electrical innovations. Their motive?
If they can confidently envision future innovations, they can get in on the ground floor. They can do today what will enhance tomorrow. They can avoid squandering time on things that come to naught. The same holds for foreseeing new insights and methods that will characterize more successful future activism. Foreseeing where future activists will make great and important progress, we can confidently join the effort, now.
In the future, when the left is growing and succeeding more widely (and those who don't think this can happen or aren't oriented toward making it happen, might just as well stop reading now—since this essay assumes this as a given), we can predict that it will have popularly formulated, widely held, substantial, and compelling vision dealing with main areas of social life in ways that inspire, provide hope, contour long-term strategy, and inform short-term program. “What are you for?” people constantly ask us. It is a fair question. We shouldn't defend not having accessible, shared answers as enlightened. We shouldn't justify lack of vision as reflecting the difficulty of envisioning. We ought to acknowledge not having vision is a serious problem. We ought to realize that since having vision will be part of having stronger movements in a desirable future, the time to develop vision is now.
In 2001, people know that the basics of society are broken. Countless lives are illegitimately lost. Endless souls are savagely sundered. People also know that these ills are social and not personal, systemic and not private. But people don't know what to do about it. Thirty five years ago, of course people who endured society's pains also knew that alienated labor and poverty hurt, that racial battery and discrimination hurt, that rape and battering hurt, that powerlessness, not to say bombs, hunger, and preventable disease hurt. But thirty five years ago people also largely felt that the degrading limits they endured were their own personal failing. I suffer because I haven't succeeded. Thus, thirty five years ago revelation of systemic roots of oppression in the form of enumerating the ways in which profit seeking or patriarchy or white supremacy or heterosexism or authoritarianism or other structures caused people's suffering, rather than people's personal failings being the cause of the problems, even provided without inspiration and vision, generated mass movements.
At a broad level, in 2001, however, working people, poor people, black and Latino people, mothers and daughters, know that much of what people endure in modern societies is unnecessarily painful and also know that it isn't their own personal fault. It isn't retribution for failure or inadequacy, it is injustice. A book on poverty like Michael Harrington's The Other America, which thirty five years ago spurred action by identifying poverty as a social problem rather than a personal failing, even presented in a much better, more comprehensive, and more convincing version now, would today spur little or no response. It would tell folks what is already their common knowledge, at least at the broadest level. Our economy hurts people, badly, unjustly.
Similarly, consciousness raising groups like those so successful in the early women's movement, with women revealing to one another their formerly closeted pain and indignity at the hands of abusive husbands, uncles, and fathers, and thereby collectively discovering that their circumstances were shared by others and were systemic and not personal, if enacted today would no longer tell women what they don't know. Revelation is no longer revelatory. Describing injustices is no longer incendiary. Likewise, leaflets and teach-ins about war and racism revealing that our country does grievous ill, even to the barbaric extent of literally starving already poor and suffering souls to death, or revelations about the health industry or pharmaceutical companies demonstrating in detail how they seek profit even when doing so yields huge piles of corpses dying for want of cheap medicine, or revelations about failing schools and hospitals in communities where people desperately need knowledge and medical care and where induced ignorance enforces class subordination, don't uplift and detonate audiences who rationalize such phenomena as personal failings—because such audiences, for the most part, no longer exist.
People now know the failings are systemic, and even the most wise and eloquent testimony to that effect is not a surprise. Now such revelations don't cause people to burst into anger at the radical news…but instead reach audiences which may have some ignorance of details, and which may need some precise information to withstand propagandistic media manipulation, of course, but which more importantly aren't active largely because they doubt that anything better is possible. Now is not thirty five years ago in this very simple respect more than in any other.
Now, if we don't talk about vision and strategy accessibly and with a breadth and depth that meet people's doubts, then we aren't addressing the most powerful obstacles to most people actively seeking change which is their doubt that change is even possible—much less that we can induce it by our efforts, much less that they personally can usefully contribute. Many people may be ignorant of precise details of income distribution, maltreatment of minorities, or international relations—but this ignorance is not solely due to horribly constrained education and media, but also to avoiding painful truths because people doubt any better future is possible and reject bemoaning how bad the untranscendable present is. Some people honestly think there is no injustice; evidence and facts may turn them. More people avoid criticizing the present because they lack hope for any alternative. Vision may turn their heads. People regard our enumeration of the ills of poverty, sexism, racism, and the rest more or less the way we would regard a depressing person's compiling of massive testimonies to the fact that aging limits options and hurts us, or that gravity limits our options and constrains motion. They see us as uselessly whining about inevitable not surmountable problems. We think showing that social ills have social causes should undercut this fatalism, but in fact it doesn't. It says to people, it isn't laws of physics, it is laws of human social interaction, at root, but it doesn't undo their belief that these laws are unbridgeable. What can undercut people's fatalism, the vaunted cynicism of our age, the very specific and crippling belief that there is no better alternative, is only the compelling enunciation of the features of better alternatives plus experiments in enacting those features, plus victories that bring us nearer to their generalized enactment.
So people need a left that not only enumerates the ills of the suffering system everyone themselves already sees and feels, but even more so, a left that provides hope and direction forward by addressing the “what do you want,” “how do we get it,” and “what can I do that will matter,” questions. As we activists keep highlighting the causes and features of problems around us, clarifying confusions induced by media manipulations, here are some additional “intellectual tasks” that have become critically important to reaching an optimistic future.
(1) Develop gender/kinship vision
Activists rightly seek affirmative action and other reforms to restrain sexist tendencies. But what about attaining new institutions that produce positive kinship and gender outcomes? What institutions can accomplish procreation, nurturance, and socialization in ways that propel broader feminist aims?
If we constantly feel mostly that every worthy gain that we achieve—changes in voting, in payment levels, in media representations, in medical treatment, in reproductive rights—risks being sundered by a return to the past that eats away at hard fought victories, it is hard to keep fighting for the gains. But if we constantly feel mostly that every gain is part of a discernible road to a new future, we will have anticipation and hope that will fuel relentless struggle.
Certainly, we need a vision for what families should look like, how parenting can be carried out without reinforcing sexist gender roles, how children and parents can play meaningful roles in communities—not just in circumscribed nuclear family units—and how we can develop supports and institutions that encourage a diversity of family arrangements capable of meeting a wide range of needs.
We need to understand sexuality as a form of human expression—not just as procreation—that we should support and celebrate in all its diversity.
We need to look at how we regard and reward work outside the home versus work inside the home. Sexist workplace practices like lack of comparable worth, welfare policies that punish women's independence, and a socioeconomic mindset that trivializes and invisiblizes caretaking work all add up to devaluing women—a fact which supports their dehumanization in all other areas of life as well. And isn't education part of this picture too, what should become of that?
Feminists have long criticized sexist institutions, but how would we replace them with ones that support liberatory gender relations, sexual practice, and caretaking?
Since having a gender related vision will be part of successful future movements, shouldn't it become a priority focus of feminist organizations, writers, and activists now?
(2) Develop cultural/community vision
We rightly seek affirmative action and other reforms to restrain and then reverse racist tendencies. But what about attaining new institutions that produce positive cultural outcomes vis-a-vis race, religion, ethnicity, and national allegiances? What institutions can facilitate people creating, elaborating, and enjoying modes of celebration, communication, mutual recognition, moral development, and cultural identity, in ways that enhance rather than subvert cultural values we hold dear? How can people have cultural communities to sustain and advance their lives, but without pitting those communities against one another?
Multiculturalism – and what movements of the late 1960s called intercommunalism – already highlight not only a target for opposition but some positive aims as well. But, beyond communities respecting one another, a future with successful social movements will certainly have clear, cogent enunciations of the causes of the hierarchicalization of religious, ethnic, racial, and national communities, plus positive aims not only for defensively holding these bitter causes in check, but for new structures that promote true cultural diversity and solidarity among communities.
So doesn't developing such visionary insights about religion, race, ethnicity, nationality, and other cultural community relations and making the insights public and widespread warrant priority attention? How else can we move toward the better cultural future we anticipate?
(3) Develop political vision
Social activists rightly fight for new laws all the time, for example to enlarge enfranchisement or to expand rights or eliminate residual violations of them. But beyond specific political gains, how can society accomplish political functions compatibly with propelling political values that we hold dear?
In a better future we will work toward ways to legislate, adjudicate disputes, address violations of citizens' rights, and arrive at and implement shared projects so we not only get good outcomes and justice in each particular instance, but so we get larger social trends that foster equity, honesty, diversity, sociability, participation, and true democracy. If we will have such shared institutional goals forefront in the not too distant future, doesn't it make sense to begin elaborating and refining them now?
Of course we don't want vast differences in power. That is obvious and has been an inspiring anarchist credo for a century and more. But beyond that broad aim, we need convincing substance able to inspire hope and inform strategy. Clearly, successful future movements will know what they want vis-à-vis judicial affairs, law making, and execution of shared political programs, so isn't it about time movements in the present developed and then widely refined and shared such aims, preparing for that more effective future?
(4) Develop economic vision
We don't want economic institutions that array actors against one another, homogenize options, create wide differentials in circumstances or income, or misappropriate influence over choices so that a few people rule and many obey. We don't want class division and class rule making our workplaces into dictatorships of owners and managers, who determine outcomes and enjoy rewards over and above working people. We don't want vicious competition, poverty, pollution, alienation, and subservience.
But what do we want in place of markets, private ownership, and corporate workplace organization? How will we remunerate, if not for power and property? How should economic decisions be made, and by whom? What institutions should we seek for economic life?
Envision huge numbers of working people seeking massive alterations in economic life, hopefully in the not too distant future. Surely such a successful workers' movement will have clearly enunciated and publicly “owned” economic vision. It will have convincing, inspiring, vision, that is refined, popularized, and made relevant to people's program and strategy, ways of arguing, and reasons for hope.
I believe participatory economics (www.parecon.org) provides such an economic vision, but whether it does or not, that we need to develop economic vision as another task of the present is beyond dispute. So among all our other priorities, shouldn't at least some of us, probably quite a few of us, be doing so, now?
(5) Develop international vision
There are huge movements around the world opposing the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization. They oppose not globalization, but efforts to pervert global ties at the expense of the weak and poor to enhance the power and wealth of the already hugely powerful and immensely wealthy. There are likewise movements against war by nation against nation, and movements against other violations of cultural, military, economic social exchange among nations.
But what is the positive alternative? What institutions should mediate international exchange of all types, trade, culture, and so on, to enhance equity, diversity, solidarity, and participation with appropriate influence over decisions?
Really effective “anti-globalization movements” and international peace and justice movements are going to be able to enunciate vision for international relations and fight for changes attaining the new relations. If that is so, shouldn't we be working out such international relations aims now, trying to develop popular support for them to speed the whole process?
(6) Develop ecology vision
For decades substantial numbers of people have focused on ecological and environmental matters. In part they have worked to protect humanity from egregious violations of nature that rebound to our disadvantage. In part they have worked to protect other species and aspects of nature in their own right. These ecology movements have emphasized sustainability and caretaking, among other values. We know we don't want despoiled rivers, befouled air, poisoned water supplies, depleted forests, or species annihilation. But what are our positive aspirations? What ecological institutional structures and practices do we favor? Surely powerful future activism on behalf of ecological sanity and innovation will have goals, so shouldn't we begin generating and sharing them in the present?
(7) Develop strategic concepts and plans
People ask activists not only what do you want, but how do you expect to get it against the immense obstacles in your way? This too is a fair question. Explaining the tremendous power of existing institutions, describing their many tentacles and interconnections, and charting their pervasive influence and tenacity, does not provide an answer. Indeed, if done without parallel discussion of our strategic goals and methods and their efficacy, merely describing how existing institutions hurt us and how they powerfully resist alteration can actually aggravate cynicism more than produce resistance.
So we need to compellingly describe a strategic path forward. We need to explain the range of demands, infrastructure, projects, issues, and tactics regarding kinship, culture, politics, economics, international relations, and ecology that will together comprise a trajectory of change to a better future. We need to show how the visionary aims that we advocate and an array of proposed organizational programs and tactics that we implement in the present can combine into a confident forward-moving trajectory of change that people refine by their accumulating experience. We need to:
Clarify who we are organizing, into what forms of movement and organization, with what programs, and employing what tactics for outreach and communication. Describe the kinds of organizational structure that can empower activism and lead toward the visions we seek. Refine our understanding of what wins immediate reforms, and of what non reformist reforms we need to be winning to string together a convincing, non-reversible trajectory of change.
We know that broad understanding of these strategic matters will characterize a viable, powerful, left movement in the future…so doesn't it make sense to start producing that understanding now? When we talk about globalization, or racism, or war, or abuse of women or children or gays, or about poverty, or media control, or any other ugly dimension of contemporary life, shouldn't we be rooting our discussion in long-term positive aims and proposing means to win victories that improve lives now but also move toward those longer term aims? If the answer is no, fine…we are doing okay, already. But if the answer is yes, then look through archives of left writing and judge critically whether we are doing enough of this already, and if we aren't doing enough of it, let's do more.
The simple organizational task list associated with the above intellectual task list is to build vision and strategy in deeds and not just thoughts. It entails beginning cautiously and realizing that the details will become clearer as we proceed, of course. But perhaps we can usefully add detail some specific steps.
(7) Clean up our existing institutions
Movements in the future will reflect our values rather than replicate the oppressions of the social structures we oppose. Shouldn't we bring the day closer by working to make it so?
Progressive and left activists are all for ending racism and sexism in society. We know that we must also persevere to reduce and finally end racial and sexual hierarchies inside our movements—since otherwise we are hypocritical, uninspiring, and will suffer the ills of these oppressions ourselves, and moreover, our movements will not attract or retain women and people of color, nor effectively pursue our anti-racist and anti-sexist priorities. There is more work to be done about race and gender in our movement organizations, but the insight is good and the activity is pointing in the right direction.
However, progressive and left activists are also for ending economic injustice and class hierarchy in society. And we have to realize that that has a similar implication: we must patiently, calmly, and constructively restructure our movements so that they no longer replicate corporate divisions of labor and decision-making as well as market norms of remuneration.
This must become a priority if we are to transcend hypocrisy, become inspiring, escape class alienations ourselves, attract, retain, and empower working people in our efforts, and retain our economic justice focuses. Class, which once crowded race and gender off our agendas, now needs to be brought back into priority, but in ways that address not only the ills of capital, but those of high level, decision monopolizing, mind workers, too, and, in particular, in ways that elevate the positive needs of labor.
Envision a future with left advances and innovations, even well short of complete victories. Surely our left movements will embody our values, our organizations will be congenial to our primary constituencies. So knowing that is the future, oughtn't attaining it be a priority of the present?
The left has a great many research organizations, think tanks, media projects, and organizing centers. In principle we know that these should manifest our values in their internal organization. We know they will do so in a future time when we are making great progress. They will then provide a worthy model. Working in them we will learn the implications of our aims in practice. They will be congenial to us whatever our backgrounds. We all know this be the case sometime down the road. We even abide it to a considerable extent in our own practice, alreadya—as we work hard to eliminate racial and gender hierarchies in our current efforts. And that's to the good, of course.
The problem still to be addressed is to incorporate into our projects desirable norms and values regarding class. When our current organizations pay people, they most often do it according to classist norms, rewarding power and position. When our organizations have job responsibilities, these are most often marked by hierarchies of fulfillment and empowerment attributes quite like those typical in capitalist corporations. Some of our people work in offices, make decisions, get higher pay, and have more status. Others of our people work more menially, are obedient, have less or no status, and earn much less pay and have much less power as well. The main donor or fund raiser often dominates decisions in our institutions. In short, rather than reducing class divisions by providing jobs that employ people's full capacities and share onerous tasks equitably, our organizations are marked by typical corporate relations.
We know that in the future our institutions will embody our positive race and gender, and also our positive economic values. So the associated task we face is to continue and improve our attention to race and gender in our movements, and to seriously initiate and expand our attention to matters of class, as well – creating a movement environment seeking to internally eliminate class division rather than a movement environment that replicates the larger society's class structure and, in so doing, is hostile to working class involvement.
(2) Develop a new encompassing structure
Movements elevate different priorities because people endure different conditions depending on race, gender, class, sexuality, and diverse other factors. This is an inevitable fact of life. It isn't going to disappear. The ensuing diversity of orientation is to the good in the breadth and depth of attention it gives each side of life. On the other hand, that our movements often don't aid one another, or that they even compete with another, is bad. It robs each movement of the unity with others that is essential to its success. We can confidently predict that in the future when our movements are more successful, this atomization won't be our lot. There will be diverse focuses, yes, but there will also be mutual trust, learning, and solidarity. Different agendas need space to develop, gain confidence, and retain focus. But to win, different agendas also need breadth of allegiance, which means that each has to benefit from the strength and character of the rest. So we know that some time in the future we will solve the problem of respecting diversity and autonomy even as we also find ways to have an overarching sense of solidarity. That being so, shouldn't we address the problem sooner rather than later? Everyone will ultimately be fighting the totality of oppressions, mutually supportively, even as they may focus more on one or another. One big step in this direction will be for larger movements to support smaller ones, and for richer movements to help pay the way of poorer ones – unreservedly and with people's bodies and resources too. That's something worth working on now.
(3) Develop means to communicate
It is a constant refrain: “How come you leftists are always talking to the choir?” There are no doubt some folks who do it because it is easier than reaching out to people we don't know who may disagree with what we have to say, who may even be hostile at times. Folks with this insular attitude ought to rethink it, of course. But the main explanation for why people on the left are most often talking to people who are also on the left, or who already wish to be on the left, is that the left doesn't have a megaphone that we can shout into that is loud enough to be heard by folks who aren't already all ears to our messages. Our media are still very small so that even when we bust a gut shouting, we reach overwhelmingly only folks who are already listening for us. Envision a future more successful movement. Surely one aspect will be that it has media means to communicate with the broad population. That being so, why not move in that direction starting now? We need to strengthen our current alternative media, supporting and enlarging it, and we need to pressure mainstream media as well—but beyond those two tasks we also need to take seriously the problem of how the left gains mass media mechanisms that place left views, analyses, agendas, and visions in the face of the whole population rather than appearing only in hard-to-find nooks and crannies that people have to search for to even know that we exist. This will have been achieved sometime down the road—it will happen sooner if we begin taking it seriously now rather than later.
(4) Develop means to finance activism
Look down the road at future movements. They will still have bills to pay. They must amass appropriate funds. They will do it, surely, and in ways consistent with democratic, accountable, and equitable norms. So why not move in such directions starting now? There is a very odd condition in our movements. We know that money matters in our societies, but we don't seem to realize that money matters on the left too. Where does it come from? How is it handled? Is it empowering a few to the detriment of the many? Is there enough of it? Most leftists don't know the answers because this topic is essentially taboo. Try to find essays and ruminations much less proposals about how events, projects, and demos should be funded, much less about how funds that come in should be redistributed among efforts. Mostly, you can't. There is a gigantic silence. Here's but one example, not the biggest, but currently on my mind. There is endless talk on the left about using the internet constructively, which is good, but there is almost no talk about how to have left internet operations generate revenues. Maybe this focus should have be called the Ostrich Problem. At any rate, ignoring how we get and handle money is a dead-end approach beneficial only to those who monopolize control of what marginal monies the left now enjoys. This too needs to be addressed to get to a future of more effective movement activism.
(5) Develop movements that will retain their members
Surely they are entities that will inspire, empower, fill needs, raise aspirations…enrich lives. Surely, once people come within their orbit, they will stay. Yet, over the past few decades, millions of folks have come into proximity of the left, participated in various events and projects, but later opted out. There are many reasons why people often don't stick with political dissent and activism. Not least, a movement that can persevere over the long haul with continuity and commitment needs to uplift rather than to harass its membership, to enrich its members' lives rather than to diminish them, to meet its members' needs rather than to neglect them.
To join a movement and become more lonely is not conducive to movements growing. To join a movement and laugh less doesn't yield every larger and more powerful movements. Thus to be on the road to the future, rather than our marking time going nowhere desirable, we need to make our projects places that folks from all kinds of backgrounds would want to spend their time, even if working in our projects weren't the moral and socially responsible thing to do. It isn't that changing the world can become all play and no work. Movement building involves lots of tedium, lots of hard work, of course. But there is no reason to make movement building as deadening as possible, rather than as rich, varied, and rewarding as possible. Movement participation should provide people full, diverse lives that real people can partake of, not merely long meetings or obscure lifestyles so divorced from social involvement that they preclude all but a very few people from partaking. We struggle to make the world less oppressive and more liberating, doing the same for our movements is part of the same project. We know this achievement will occur, that future movements will be sticky movements in which people who come into contact stay loyal…so we ought to get on about solving the problem now. Z