WHAT DO WE WANT? AND WHO ARE "WE"?
and arising from "Seattle" and subsequent protests are questions such
as the above -- by those participating in and supporting, and those against the
protests. Those and related questions have always deserved serious
answers; now more than ever. The response here cannot be more than a
on the matter of demonstrations as such. There is no question of their
necessity: they are educational for all, mind-openers for many; they often
effectuate changes over time that go beyond causing those on high to put on a
nicer face; they strengthen the organizations that bring them about and add
greatly to the numbers of those perceiving the need to change the system.
Necessary they are, sufficient they are not. I am reminded of the antiwar
days, when I was always a member of the steering committee of "the Mobe,"
which, as some will remember, organized most of the national demos. In our
meetings I would usually raise the question "And what about the day after
the demo?" My oft-repeated question had no effect (except that I came
to be called "TDA Dowd," and not always with affection). There
can be no doubt that the antiwar demos played a vital role in preventing the USA
from winning in Vietnam; but one must also pay atention to the ugly fact that
well before the war ended, the Right in the USA was becoming stronger and we
were becoming weaker -- fighting amongst ourselves, decreasingly able even to
mount strong demostrations. So, once more: and TDA?
has been intrinsic to left political activity that we spend almost all of our
time and energy in fighting "against," rather than "for."
There is always a crisis or ongoing tragedy to struggle atainst: before
World War II, against fascism (if also for unions); after it, against the
union-weakening Taft-Hartley Act, McCarthyism and the Cold War, against racism
and sexism and homophobia, against Vietnam...; now, against globalization.
we said it or knew it or not, all those fights were against the same thing, of
course: a socioeconomic system that depends upon, creates, and feeds
exploitation, inequality, repression and oppression, here and everywhere; that
endlessly seeks and finds all the means necessary to slake its ravenous appetite
for profits and power: come what may. But (and except for a few
small and rival groups) we have not sought, let alone developed, a movement to
fight for an alternative system.
what do "we" want? And who ARE we? What can be said to
those who jump on us for being well-fed, witless and fun-seeking troublemakers
-- "outside agitators" -- intermittently getting high on a political
spree? More importantly, what can we say to ourselves?
is important to start with who "we"are, not just for purposes of
identification, but for our analyses and politics. We are all the peopols
of the world; all those who suffer from the centuries-old and continuing
fuctions of capitalism; who suffer from exploitation and material deprivation to
the point (for some billions) of dreadfully shortened lives; that vast majority,
in both rich and poor countries, whose lives are shaped to fit the needs of
capital, which requires that human, social and environmental needs are stifled,
warped, ignored; who suffer, directly and indirectly, from the systematic and
universal commodification of everything and everyone -- of our education, our
health, our cultures, our politics; who suffer, all of us, both from the loss of
vital elements of our humanity that can never be regained in this social system,
ruled over as it is by mentalities and characters combining those of gangsters
and fraternity boys.
then, what do we want? The answer to that should begin by changing
"want" to "need." It is popular to denigrate Marx
these days; but -- and in addition to his other great strengths -- his standard
for the ideal society was just right: "From each according to
ability, to each according to need." What do all human beings
(and their diverse societies, and Mother Nature) NEED? As I have remarked
elsewhere, in the entire corpus of economic theory, one will search in vain for
the word "need": it is a four-letter -- dirty -- word. Instead,
the focus of theory is how we serve capital by selling ourselves and buying
their products -- not in such blunt language, to be sure; better for the
self-image of both economists and capital to spin ugly realities into
do we need? There will be nothing new here (and much else could be added):
1. Everyone -- everywhere -- needs full-scale health care, "womb to tomb," as the pre-Thatcherite British put it.
2. Everyone -- everywhere -- nees easy access to an educational system that includes but goes well beyond training, in order that the creative and constructive possibilities of our species can be nourished, not suppressed.
3. There is no excuse whatsoever for anyone -- anwhere -- to have less than an adequate diet.
4. Nor can any of these or other needs be met unless we all do something that WE need to do: to learn what we need to know whil also UNlearning the system's "wisdom"; to spend substantial amounts of our (much-wasted) time and energy working with and developing a politics of the people, a politics going beyond what we have, comprising the needsa and possiblities of all wage-earners, irrespective of the color of their collar or skin, their gender or age or continent -- and, as well, the needs of the many millions of owners of family farms and other small businesses. It will be objected that many of these are employers, exploitative themselves; but it must be noted that some notable percentage of these business people are anything but "capitalists"; in their small stores or workshops (etc.); they too are oppressed and victimized by giant firms; more often than not, the low net incomes and long hours of their businesses are part of an often futile attempt to maintain some kind of independence and dignity. They can be among our allies if we let it be known that we are not among their enemies. To all the foregoing, one may add rising numbers of doctors, engineers and other professionals, on their way to recognizing that the giants are striding on their once-privileged terrain. Has anyone been excluded? Yes: those in the catbird seats of the big corporations and of Wall Street (and their inheritors), or those who seek to be. When the time comes, we may weep for them.
this must be added: Having begun with "wage-earners," a moment's
focus on organized labor is here essential. The bottom line for capital's
bottom line always has been and remains its ability to exploit workers (now
added to by its media-created abilities to to "exploit" consumers and
taxpayers). Thus the organization of workers into unions is the main
menace to capital's profits and power. Whatever else we struggle for, we
must support unions and unionization; otherwise, there can be no effective
said, the history of unionism in the USA, bothersome though it has been to
capital, has never constituted a major threat. That is because U.S.
workers only rarely, and never effectively, have gone beyond creating a trade
union movement toward creating a labor movement. The distinction is
trade union seeks better wages, working conditions and benefits for its members
-- all absolutely necessary, all to be supported. The constitutent unions
of a labor movement do all that, also; but a labor movement also fights to
improve the conditions of the people as a whole, seeks to achieve the political
power to create an economically and socially democratic society, using the tools
of political democracy. The USA is unique among the major capitalist
nations in never having had a labor movement: to the great advantage of
capital. That absence helps to explain to the lack of solidarity between
well-organized workers and all others, how easy it has been and is for capital
to exploit the differences among us, and to lead us to direct our aim at each
other instead of them. Or to do nothing. Thus:
1. Racism and sexism have only rarely been fought against by or in U.S. unions, even though the existence of both weakens the unions themselves (apart from other considerations).
2. Unions' concernsd with economy as a while has been limited at best, harmful at worst. The latter was exemplified in the late 1940s when in the bargaining between the UAW and GM, Walter Reuther (among the best of U.S. union leaders) gave up the fight to keep GM from raising its prices and, instead, helped to create the contract provision that provided auto workers' wages would rise along with inflation ("COLA"). That provision soon spread to all collective bargaining, its outcome that inflation's pains would be least for the strongest workers and greatest for the weakest.
3. Effective links between U.S. unions and the organized and unorganized workers abroad have always been weak (even in the "international unions"), and usually non-existent. That was a serious problem in the past; nowadays it may well mean slow death. Most dramatically is that likely to be so for the "hottest" industry all -- computer hardware and software production. Much-discussed in the industry today is that the combination of existing and growing skills, capital, and extremely low wages in (most clearly) India and China threatens soon to make the "downsizing and outsourcing" of the automobile industry (among others) seem like a summer cold, compared to the possibility of a wholesale displacement of that production to the poor countries. "Workers of the world, unite!" was once a great slogan; now it is a life or death imperative.
4. And then there was organized labor's combination of complacency and complicity in the Cold War, not least as regarded Vietnam. Traditional nationalism combined with what was seen as enlightened self-interest in ongoing military expenditures -- even though worrkers ranked high among the ar's casualties.
just as those outside the trade union movement must support those inside it,
uinions and their members must do likewise in the other direction, must support
the many struggles against exploitation, oppression and repression at home and
abroad. There are hopeful signs in both directions nowadays -- most
clearly in Seattle. But, as with everything else noted above, there is a
long, long road ahead.
road must be traversed more quickly, more thoughtfully, and more energetically
than ever before in our history. Tens of millions even in thes richest
country in the world are living on or over the edge of desperation; for many
billions in the rest of the world desperation has moved to calamity. And
all that may well be but a prelude to considerably more disastrous developments.
presumed achievements of globalization have been accompanied by -- have required
-- the already high and always rising fragility of national economies and of the
intensely globalized framework within which they now operate and upon which
their continued "health" depends.It is a certainty that a recession
awaits, despite the euphoria about the uniqueness of "the new
economy." Where a recession will begin cannot be known, nor is it that
important, given the tight integration of the global economy. Whether it
will begin with a "soft" or a "hard landing" is just as
unimportant: that of 1929, it has been forgotten, began with a "soft
landing," a minor recession; the roller coaster ride to its full depths was
not reached until 1933. Today's world economy is considerably more
dominated by speculative finance than anything earlier; Humpty Dumpty is in for
a great fall.
in mind what happened -- economically, socially, politically, militarily -- in
the decade after 1929 (and remembering the euphoria preceding it), that suggests
that we, and many more than we, must step and greatly alter our poltical
efforts. Demonstrations must be seen as part of an uninterrupted movement,
a movement always broadending and deepening in its scope and its purposes, its
purposes, and its strengths. And, it needs saying, even were there NEVER
to be a slump, "we" need to create another world; this one stinks.