(Editor’s Note: This was written in late 2014 by a friend of Edge City and reflects many conversations with Edge City members and others but does not reflect the politics of all members of the group.)
We write this not as a manifesto, but as a letter and invitation to dialogue. Events since Occupy and particularly since the rebellion in Ferguson make it possible to spell out much clearer in outline what the elements of a revolutionary left in the United States look like. There is a rising tide of movement in 2015 and we claim one current of that. We owe it to ourselves and others to contribute to the tide, but also to distinguish one portion of it.
It’s necessary to preface this, since ‘revolutionary’ proclamations are nothing new among some political groupings in North America. Many of those documents have been obscure enough as to leave us scratching our heads. We’ll attempt to speak as plainly as possible and to make clear that we are not seeking differences for the point of purity; we’re seeking theoretical clarity and political unity, when possible. But, while we’re not offering points of unity or a constitution here – those are tasks for collectives and organizations – we are certain that there is a revolutionary current that does not fit into any of the existing organizations or frameworks. At the time of Occupy in the United States it was possible to look around and count heads and know there were tens of thousands of individuals who were being drawn to the revolutionary pole. They were not drawn to a document (the original Occupy document was a somewhat vague Adbusters plea that no one remembers), but to actions, calls to actions and individuals and small groups who were putting forth clear alternatives to, let’s be generous, what were often muddled or reformist proposals that showed up dressed in new Occupied garb.
We don’t want to minimize the organizational, theoretical, political and personal tasks that will be necessary to cohere that force, since they are significant and some may be outright impossible. E.g., not every individual with revolutionary politics can work within or with organizations, some have been too damaged by life under capitalism. In fact a review of previous attempts at organizations and federations at least since 1999 in the U.S. is one necessary step, but future documents, reviews, critiques, proposals, books as well as actions and campaigns should and will come when new meetings and new organizations demand and commission them. Given that this next year will find the arising movement forced to go beyond its current cycle of marches as well as fending off the inevitable sucking of some of its militants into the Democratic Party’s 2016 campaign, there is little time to spare.
We do not expect agreement on every word or every point here, nor do we think that is necessary. Our approach is to stake out boundaries and expect that the work – and the process of collectively agreeing to do real work together – as well as the tasks before us will define any organization that arises. We do not expect agreement on every word or every point here, nor do we think that is necessary; we repeat that to emphasize that this document is a survey, not an agenda or Wikipedia or program. Particularly since we are writing against the modern tendencies to overwhelm people with jargon, to write the perfect document or fastest tweet rather than take a place in this emerging movement and, as well, to act as though there is unlimited time to mull over the possibilities.
We are writing for 2015 and the future. While there is much value in the documents of the past – and we have unhesitatingly borrowed and stolen from better writers than ourselves – those who continue to use only the thoughts and categories that were useful in 1848 or 1929 or 1968 do us no good. We would urge everyone to re-read Luxemburg’s writings on reform and revolution and Malcolm’s speeches from 1960 on, for example, but also to recall that Rosa did not have to deal with the non-profit complex and Malcolm X spoke and wrote and organized during a time of legal segregation in the U.S. Can anyone deny that in 2008 the possibility of an African-American president galvanized a large sector of the U.S. working class but, since August, 2014, much of the Black youth, students and workers of Ferguson and elsewhere have acted as though that president is irrelevant to their lives. Doesn’t this demand new thinking and new actions on our part?
These are beginning points of discussion for a revolutionary current in the U.S., not slogans or endpoints. If each is completely re-written in the process of creating an organization that would not displease us. We should stress that they derive from the basic notion of the autonomy of the dispossessed and of the working class – the revolutionary force(s) creating themselves through the necessary, though not inevitable, process of struggle against internal tendencies. Those who wish to stop U.S. imperialism, but deny the existence of a working class in North America or who wish to restrict workers to a sociological or demographic function, for example, will find little in common with us, despite some allegiance on the need to recognize the role of the U.S. state as a global policeman. Those who would recruit us to their Party can save their breath.
Here we stand:
I. the earth is a global system, both ecologically and economically. No nation is outside global capitalism, no species is exempt from its effects. The destructive trends resulting from production for profit – almost too many to name – are directly related to the current mode of production, capitalism, and cannot be resolved without transcending and destroying the triumph of exchange value over use value (production for profit, not use). Humanity has both obligation and necessity in undertaking that task. The current destruction of species and the environment is unprecedented, equivalent to the sixth great extinction, and cannot continue without large portions of the planet becoming Fukushima and Chernoboyl, New Orleans just after Katrina, the dead zones of the oceans, the stripped mountain tops of Appalachia and Wyoming, the clearcuts of the Amazon, Indonesia, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, the mono-cultured crop zones of the Midwest, Africa without elephants and apes, the Arctic without whales and polar bears.
The destruction of slavery in U.S. is taught as though it were a single event of necessity and moral victory, rather than a series of violently contested battles, with white workers often led by African slaves, from the early 1600s through the dismantling of Radical Reconstruction. Schoolchildren wonder aloud why there were not more John Browns and Sojourner Truths, not understanding that history texts sold in the U.S. cannot and will not teach about the daily resistance of field slaves and the rise of Nat Turners. The citizens and children of the future, if they exist, will ask why we waited so long to openly battle against the global ravaging and to destroy wage slavery. Freedom is the recognition of necessity; it is necessary that capitalism be destroyed for the planet’s species to survive.
II. glimpses of our potential future are before us at all times. We will have a choice of collapse/catastrophe or communism. Everyone can visualize the collapse/catastrophe, since we may see it before us daily, either in reality or in popular media. But can we look at the potential before us and say, “Why not?”
We believe that alternative is right before us, that the seeds of the new society are emerging amid the self-destruction of the old. To borrow the words of another thinker, “communism grows out of and embodies the creative self-emancipation of the working class. It is not a gift bestowed by a revolutionary vanguard. It is not nationalized factories and state farms.” Nor is it a socialist president (or a Black president or a female president) and a national workfare/welfare program. Neither is it unions led by socialists or even communist unions. It is not the rule of a central committee over the economic and political life of a country of one billion or an island of ten million.
Paradoxically, one of the most advanced sectors of U.S. capital, the aircraft industry, uses one of the elements of communism, workers’ control of the production process, since ‘it gets the job done’. In the production of the most complex tool on the planet, the jet engines for commercial airliners, democratic work teams are the norm. But we can see in every workplace from McDonald’s to Boeing the daily attempts of workers to control and democratize the process of production, pace, product and even profit levels. The nation-wide resistance of Registered Nurses to the fraudulent response of U.S. hospitals to the Ebola crisis is one such example. Nurses as a group fought for necessary training, equipment, staffing, medications and free treatment for patients and staff; they resisted the bad science and racist rhetoric of the right wing (think ‘border controls’ whenever the right mentions Ebola).
Make no mistake: we support workers’ struggles up to and including takeover and occupation of farms, factories, hospitals and other workplaces, even just as a tactic in negotiations. We think the mistake that has been made in workplace occupations is in giving it back. To borrow from the IWW of 1915 and to paraphrase Katniss from The Hunger Games, “They need us; we don’t need them.” Socialism/communism will be workers’ control of the process of production and social control of the product, profit and decision-making process. To get there, the traditional first step in revolutions is for workers to throw out the management at their factories (and to shoot the secret police).
To borrow from that thinker again, “An understanding of and an appreciation for the existing elements of mass creativity and a program to develop and generalize them is an essential feature of the relationship of a left to the broader movement. It is also the basic point of reference from which the debate about the nature of socialism, and of societies which so defined themselves, must proceed. We believe that this debate is vital…”
III. we have no allegiance to any state. As residents of the United States, which has militarily intervened in at least 50 countries since 1945, we have an obligation to the rest of the planet to stop those interventions. The example of Haiti should be kept in mind. This country, which shares an island and ecosystem with the Dominican Republic, was the site of the first successful slave rebellion in the world and was the richest colony in the world. It is now one of the poorest and most environmentally devastated places on the planet. The U.S. invaded Haiti four times over the last century to insure a cheap supply of baseballs and T-shirts.
This does not mean that we cannot face reality and condemn the actions of other nations, trans-national capital, and trans-national political forces seeking to subjugate others. E.g., Russia has just invaded the Ukraine (2014), elements of the Hutu committed genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda (1994), Iraqi and Turk nationalists have attempted to destroy the Kurd people for decades, ISIS has called for death to all those who oppose the caliphate (2014), machinations of the IMF and global banks have largely destroyed the economy of Iceland (2007), etc.
Internationalism in practice should start at home, which means that we acknowledge that there are national formations within the current borders of the U.S. and seek to align with those forces that are liberatory. That actual practice will not be easy, but principled actions have occurred often enough to give us some ideas. When millions of Mexican and Central American workers cross the U.S. borders, our stance should not align with the U.S. or Mexican state, nor Mexican drug cartels or U.S. racist unions, but with the masses of workers.
IV. white supremacy and genocide have been essential and decisive components of U.S. history. We would argue that it is impossible to understand the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the rise of the nuclear age without looking at the genocide of Native peoples that began before the creation of the U.S. The silence and complicity of the U.S. Left while the active and conscious genocide of Native peoples was occurring must not be repeated.
Further, the concept of a ‘white race’ and racial privileges were created in what became the United States; this process was set against the increased enslavement of African peoples. Both processes were necessary to the creation of capitalism and a relatively stable political rule in the U.S. Any revolutionary organization in the U.S. that does not: 1) both understand the role of white supremacy and seek its destruction as a primary task and 2) recognize the existence of autonomous movements of the dispossessed as the best guarantee of success of any movement will repeat the mistakes of ‘reluctant reformers’. Those who forget that the police in the U.S. began as slave patrols will be outside or against the current upsurge.
The Black rebellion in Ferguson destroyed the assertion that this is a ‘post-racial’ society. The Black-led, multi-racial movement that arose in Oakland following the murder of Oscar Grant and that has now arisen in an embryonic form on a national level reminds us of the potential of a movement that has stepped outside legal bounds. While many of us have in the past participated in Copwatch and similar activities, the rebellion started from that point and then leaped beyond the radical concept, rendering it politically obsolete in many ways (not ‘copwatching’, but ‘Copwatch’ as an organizing principle).
The mechanism of white supremacy as the principal bulwark of U.S. capitalism which operated during slavery and then legal segregation is no longer in effect. This does not mean that there is no racism, racial discrimination and organized groupings of white supremacists, nor does it mean that all sections of the white working class reject white privilege. But the city of Oakland is not ruled by an organized grouping of white supremacists, as was the case when the Black Panthers arose. If 1967 marked the political emergence of Black Power and the theoretical understanding of white supremacy as a political force, we must ask, have any changes occurred in the world since? The primary tendency of capital in the U.S. and world-wide in 2015, despite the existence of nationally-based sectors, is for color-blind and gender-blind extraction of profit; this is mostly conveyed through the political mechanism of neo-liberalism.
V. On a global level, women’s struggle for equality has crossed every border, since women’s oppression is global and predates all others historically. We support those struggles, which have been the most ‘internationalist’ of movements in the last few decades, and endorse the efforts in removing all barriers to women’s participation in all areas of society.
Whether calling it a fight against male supremacy, sexism or patriarchy, autonomous women’s organizations around the world have been the forces which have fought for contraception, abortion and women’s control of their own bodies and health. They have organized against rape and sexual violence and, as a result, have forced a widening public discussion of that and extended it to the sexual and physical and emotional violence routinely conducted against children. Women’s struggle for equality in employment, education, household life and public life has utterly transformed the nature of modern life; we all benefit from it.
At the same time, we support those who are struggling to destroy the bipolar gender system and compulsory heterosexuality, which, like the notions of race, are social constructs. We are for a world in which gender relations are completely transformed.
It would be a political mistake to act as though all these processes meld seamlessly together or that any one organization will have a perfect feminist practice. Our movements, our organizations and the revolution will be created by individuals who were raised in a fucked-up society and who will sometimes act in fucked-up ways. The greater mistake by far would be to not have internal practices within organizations and movements that insure and advance the role of women and those who defy gender roles.
VI. Many groups and individuals on the Left, particularly in academia, appear more interested in de-constructing oppression, when our collective path should be the destruction of all oppression. We wish to counter with a strategic approach and will do so in stark contrast to existing ‘privilege politics’. Was Eric Garner, murdered by the NYPD in 2014, more oppressed than Leelah Alcorn, killed by transphobia in 2015? Was Matthew Shepard, targeted and murdered by two queer-bashers in Wyoming in 1998, more oppressed than Reat Griffin Underwood, a fourteen-year-old Jewish youth targeted and murdered by a neo-fascist outside of the Kansas City JCC in April, 2014.
Blood is blood, to borrow from Camus. We do not deny the existence of past and present anti-Semitism in U.S. or dishonor Reat’s short life if we are part of an organization that chooses to concentrate efforts in workplace organizing, for example. We would dishonor Leelah’s appeal to make her death mean something and to ‘fix society’ if we did not recognize and honor the presence of trans folks as members and leaders of the struggle for justice for Oscar Grant, Occupy Oakland and the current upsurge in the Bay area.
A political organization, particularly a revolutionary one, which attempts to take on every issue is similar to an army that fights on all fronts. It will be defeated, either in the short or long term. Political organizations have an obligation to state openly the criteria that are used for determining its work. We believe that the mass resistance to the police that is arising in the U.S. both threatens state power and foreshadows a new society in which ordinary people take responsibility for all aspects of their lives; these simple criteria are the basis for our revolutionary strategy.
To borrow from another document, “the actions taken by an organization, its involvement in mass movements and its public statements should be determined on a strategic basis….(w)e may morally and politically approve of (other efforts) but…we must reject the liberalism of reform activism and concern ourselves with revolutionary strategy.”
Again, the above points are intended to begin debate and act as a survey. The coming crises, both political and environmental, have been accepted as inevitable by those state agencies and sectors of modern capital who are not bound by the need to promote right wing rhetoric. The U.S. military accepts the estimates of global warming derived from NASA meteorologists and crop estimates from the Department of Agriculture and the CIA, then plans its counter-insurgency contingency plans accordingly. Insurance corporations now routinely plan for frequent ‘hundred year’ and ‘thousand year’ floods as well as the rise of global ocean levels. While those agencies are not without error (recall the alleged WMD in Iraq), they are not planning for ‘business as usual’. When we learn that the major agricultural corporations (Archer Daniels Midland, Pioneer, Dow) are attempting to use the Department of Agriculture’s Seed Act of 2004 to force small public libraries in Iowa and Pennsylvania to stop acting as ‘seed libraries’, that is, distributing seeds for heritage tomatoes and flowers, as they’ve done for decades, it should give us pause.
It is our contention that the left – and particularly the revolutionary sector of the U.S. left – has been spectacularly unprepared for the crises that have occurred since the beginning of the century. In retrospect we can look at Katrina’s destruction of New Orleans and applaud those who responded in radical ways, but ask ‘why so little’? If we look at the present as history, in each crisis there will appear options that are sharply different. During Occupy Oakland there were leftists who were negotiating with the Quan administration while others of us prepared for a general strike. In Ferguson the mass rebellions occurred while some left formations were maneuvering with Holder/Obama.
There is a growing mass understanding of the depth of the crises, coupled with rejection of many of the institutions of modern life. This is not sufficient for a revolutionary situation, since the rejection is frequently appearing as cynicism or worse. E.g., the conspiracy theories and ‘post-zombie apocalypse prepper’ ethos which are widespread among both hip-hop artists and on right-wing talk shows can as easily lay the basis for a neo-fascist politic. But there are millions of youth and adults who no longer believe the ‘official story’ and will not be waiting for the church, the unions, FEMA/the Red Cross or ‘Washington’ to help them.
To prepare, we urge that revolutionaries begin to be able to think in political/military terms. There is a danger in approaching politics militarily, among them, the critiques Mike Tyson and Napoleon pointed out in their dismissal of ‘plans’ and the narrowness in thinking that political power grows (only) out of the barrel of a gun. But we must acknowledge that the state’s increased repression is being conducted in a political/military manner; those radical solutions which have successfully occurred and will be occurring (occupation of homes, occupation of factories, defense of undocumented workers, confrontation of environmental destruction, etc.), demand such an approach and finally, we cannot talk honestly about mass violence without placing it within such a framework. Our morals and tools are not theirs – revolutionaries don’t use torture against humans or animals – but we will be hindered if we do not realize that every major national event or crisis, from the Super Bowl to the presidential conventions to hurricane/tornado/flood recovery to squashing the rebellion in Ferguson is now being run as a joint FEMA/police counterinsurgency exercise.
One component of that preparation for the future will be the cohering of revolutionary political forces that are capable of acting at a national and international level. That discussion demands much more than we intend to write here, since we have stressed political rather than organizational stances. There may be one organization or several new ones emerging; we are not arrogant enough to assert that some body exists, as the 3rd International did in the movie Reds and in reality, which can force unity by telling tens of thousands of argumentative folks to put their differences aside just like that. Nor are we speaking against those individuals who have attempted to stake out revolutionary political positions by themselves via websites/social media/workshops/CDs/etc., we just know that acting individually or in small collectives won’t be enough. We acknowledge that there will inevitably be a tension between the ability to function collectively in the hundreds and thousands and the freedom of action that many are used to. In the same way, a national formation or organization cannot just be an assembling of the various local projects (‘your Copwatch plus our Infoshop plus their fast food union drive’), or an agreement to do joint work. Nor can we set aside the very real problems of theory and gaps in theory that exist. Any political grouping that acts as though these problems have been solved is a fraud or a cult or delusional.
These and many other problems face us. But unless we begin now we deserve the scorn of our grandchildren.