1. The World Situation: Brief Outline of its Main Features and Prospects
The world is undergoing vast changes. In the decade following the breakup of the Soviet Union, the disintegration of the Eastern Bloc, and the end of the Cold War, the world's political and economic systems have faced expansion and collapse, upheavals and crises - violent and nonviolent - leading to a new global economy and new relationships of power and influence. These conditions set the contours for progressive change in our time: change in the direction of expanded human rights and participatory democracy, of equity and equal rights among nations and peoples, of scientific and technological revolution, and of growing economic and social justice for all. The same conditions have also heightened reactionary change, unleashing new dangers and realities of war and repression, of increasing global inequality, of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, of mass movements of religious fanaticism and intolerance, of ecological devastation and the globalized plunder of the weak by the strong.
All those seriously interested in developing a road forward for progressive movements must take stock of these conditions. They must assess the balances of various forces, estimate rising and declining trends, and identify adversaries and allies. Here are a few of the main features we consider most significant:
The Emergence of a Global Capitalist Class
Brought into being by the revolution in the technical means of production and communication, these transnational capitalists have fostered a truly global market and division of labor. Even though global capital has emerged in all the major countries, its firms and institutions are not decisively tied to any particular nationality or profess complete allegiance to any particular nation-state. This causes them to both collude and contend with the more traditional national forms of capital in each country and across national boundaries. Through a variety of global forums, this sector of global capital is seeking to bring into being new forms of global governance, security, trade and development that can work to their advantage and enhance their growth and prosperity.
The Emergence of a Multipolar World
Because of its overwhelming technical and military superiority, the current White House and many other ruling elite groupings think the U.S. is the epicenter and enforcer of a 'unipolar' or a 'one superpower' world. This is a one-sided and dangerous delusion. It ignores the economic power of the Globalists in Europe and East Asia. It both discounts and demonizes the dynamic power and growth of the People's Republic of China. It views the third world generally as an object of history, rather than as makers of history. And it underestimates the world's peoples themselves, who, in creating forms of mass mobilization and participation - such as the recent movements critical of globalization and war - become 'another superpower' in their own right.
The Emergence of Global Crises and a Widening North-South Divide
The world's economic systems are becoming increasingly interdependent, and their problems cross borders and continents as well as their wealth, goods, and laboring peoples. All economic systems, moreover, are subsets of the Earth's ecosystem. There is no place in a truly modern economic theory for treating problems of pollution and other ills as 'externalities' that can be discounted. Moreover, growing numbers of problems cannot be solved within national boundaries, but require bilateral and multilateral agreements and plans based on equitable and sustainable development.
Ignoring these issues and stifling progressive change has given rise to the worldwide protests against the destructive downside of globalization. The centuries-old transfer of wealth from the poorer regions of the Global South to the advanced industrial North must cease and be redirected for the mutual benefit of all peoples.
The Emergence of Open Hegemonism in the U.S Ruling Elite
The U.S. ruling class has regrouped into two main camps, the Globalists and the Hegemonists. The first is tied mainly to the global capitalists and primarily seeks to dominate through multilateral, multinational arrangements for world stability, governance, and security. The second - more reactionary and dangerous at present - also seeks global rule and stability, but now openly talks of Empire, the American Century, Pax Americana, preventive and pre-emptive war, and the military subordination of all other potential rival powers far into the future. It has taken the reactionary crimes of 9/11 as an excuse for an endless state of war abroad, an assault on civil liberties at home, and for plundering the country's wealth, and the wealth of others, for the permanent feeding of its war machine.
The Emergence of Theocratic Fascism as a Danger to Peace and Democracy
Globalization and its discontents have also invoked a response among a number of reactionary elites who have wrapped a reactionary message in religious garb. While the most widespread is among Islamic fundamentalists, it also takes Christian, Jewish and Hindu forms. Appealing to anxieties from uneven development and the breakdown of older cultures and moralities, it often attacks all the ideas of modernization, the emancipation of women, and the Enlightenment values of separation of church and state, and religious tolerance and liberty. In its terrorist expression, it is prone to massive criminality and a grave threat to peace and security.
The Emergence of Dynamic Economies Combining the Market with National and Democratic Planning and Initiatives
The collapse of the Soviet bloc underscored an historical crisis of socialism, in both theory and practice. The commandist, anti-market models suffered serious defeats. To survive and thrive in the 21st Century, socialism requires major revisions and theoretical breakthroughs. Some important work is already being done by market-oriented socialists in many countries and movements, but much remains to be done.
China, with its socialist market economy with its own national features, is the largest and most significant of these economies in the third world. Even with its problems, it has made giant strides in promoting growth, modernization, and prosperity, and has made new contributions to socialist theory and practice. Other important experiments in economic democracy are underway following the popular victories in South Africa and the coming to power of the Workers Party in Brazil. In a European context, there are thriving regional alliances of popular and worker controlled industries in both Spain and Italy that also have rich lessons for the future. The message is that the tension between capitalism and socialism did not end forever with the collapse of the anti-market, command model of the Soviet bloc.
There are new, positive, and practical ways for popular and democratic forces to contend with the 'TINA - There Is No Alternative' crowd that capitulates to the Neoliberal Globalists and the Hegemonists. Understanding the positive importance of the market is a critical point of demarcation between us and some others on the left. In our view, the market is not simply synonymous with capitalism; it is an achievement of human civilization that both predates capitalism and will persist for some time after capitalism. As a result, our vision of a socialist society is one that contends today in the arenas of both the market and the state. A successful revolutionary struggle in just one of these arenas is required but not sufficient.
The market has too often been one-sidedly, simplistically and tragically viewed as only a terrain for capitalists or the exploiting class. This abstention unnecessarily cedes to them a critical arena for production, defining work, technological progress, knowledge and democracy. Not only is the marketplace an arena for regulation and application of macro policy, but also a place for democratic ownership, further developing our tradition of collective and participatory management, developing the wisdom among our ranks to deal with uneven development as we promote progress and solidarity, and developing a socialist entrepreneurial tradition. In this terrain, we create deep and often complex alliances between workers, managers, investors, the community, consumers, financiers, and technical experts.
In this context, our task is to help the workers train to become the masters of society, even as they struggle under the weight of its present conditions. If we aren't capable of managing the pressures that encourage corruption and opportunism in the firm or political life, we certainly disqualify ourselves from leadership in transforming society.
2. The Rise of Global Opposition
Increasingly people, organizations, and nations across the world are joining in great numbers to oppose many of the reactionary policies arising from the crises of global capital internationally and domestically. The opposition to the War in Iraq was powerful, broad and unprecedented in scope. The United Nations and other international networks have become increasingly independent, as have traditional allies of the US in Europe and North America, signaling growing and important divisions in the capitalist world. Labor and democratic movements are gaining strength in many cases - particularly throughout Latin America.
Everyday within the US, there are growing cracks in what has been claimed to be so secure and so permanent. Even among the ruling establishment, there are growing conflicts and skirmishes between speculative and productive capital, i.e., between 'Low Road' businesses and investors that want to drive down working and living standards, restrict safety nets, destroy trade unions, increase inequality and subvert public schools and services. 'High Road' businesses and developers - on the other hand - tend to understand the longer-term importance of a skilled, healthy and prosperous work force, of sustainable development and a clean, healthy environment. They often see that these things are beneficial to them as well, and they are willing to work in democratic alliances to realize these conditions.
The greed of Low Road capitalists, on the other hand, has openly shown itself more than ever in recent memory. Their highest priority is making maximum profits in the short run, even as they harm and devour the productive capacity that gave them so much power in the world. This is giving rise to a deepening alienation in all strata of society by those who depended on them and expected them to preserve the productive surge of modern society that offered so much promise. Thus there is a growing demand and struggle in all segments of our society for justice, against racist discrimination and oppression, against the oppression of women, for peace, for a restored environment, for an end to poverty, for the rights of homosexuals to be free from discrimination and persecution, for full democratic rights for all.
There is also a growing struggle to defend and develop our local economies and communities in reaction to the unrestrained destruction created by predatory, Low Road capitalist practices and to build a sustainable and restorative economy using every opportunity and resource available through the intelligent use of the market, the state, and civil society.
This is why we segment the business community. Generally speaking, we divide them into our adversaries, our tactical allies, and our strategic allies. This is based on a concrete analysis of their material interests and actual practice from period to period: are they mainly productive capital or low road speculators? If so, are they working on progressive or backward projects and programs? And what skills, knowledge, and resources can they either bring to the struggle for change or can they use to prevent change? There is also the 'third sector' or 'social economy' of capital, the nonprofit and public sectors, which can be longer term allies. We need to recognize the Low as well as the High Road trends in this sector as well.
Our struggle is one to transform an existing society into a new one - building on its strengths and liberatory possibilities and decisively combating its weaknesses and retrograde practices. Key is bringing forward those who gained skill and leadership in the positive aspects of market activity. We want as many friends as possible in order to divide, isolate and defeat those key enemies who are the more dangerous and have the greatest power and influence at any given time.
The search for successful models and tools turns of necessity to the world economy, since the framework for local development is global. There is not only the space, but the urgent necessity to advance a comprehensive, popular and democratic alternative to actually existing Low Road capitalism. It must be an alternative that is practical at the micro level of society, profoundly productive and innovative, that creatively uses all aspects of the state and market, and is consistent with our objectives of solidarity and justice. There are growing segments of the labor movement, community residents and civic organizations, religious institutions, sections of the business community, and leaders in government and policy circles, both alone and together, that can be engaged in projects to create an alternative.
But these are only first steps. There is still a specter haunting this world. Our political generation must also look to the future and rise to the challenge to develop a more strategic theory that envisions a world beyond capitalist economies of scarcity, that sees a new world based on abundance, ecological harmony and the vast expansion of human liberty. We do not believe capitalism is eternal. In our struggles for the High Road alternatives within the current capitalist system, we are concurrently building a movement for a new socialist system. In addition to fighting abuses and demanding a redistribution of resources, it must primarily be a movement that can seriously contend for power in the economy, in society, and in the state premised on programs of social, economic, and environmental sustainability and solidarity.
3. The State of the U.S. Left
Currently, the political parties and movements challenging capitalism and it abuses in our country - both tactically and strategically - are fragmented and weak. Mainstream parties have declared peace with the current paradigm. Parties and organizations of the left, in the main, are marginal and sectarian, caught in the organizational and programmatic time warps of the Second, Third and Fourth Internationals of the past.
There are periodic surges, often magnificent, in the spontaneous movement, as recently around the War on Iraq. Yet no organization is successfully galvanizing, consolidating and organizing the hundreds of thousands, even millions, of young, middle-aged, and older people who are looking at deeper systemic questions, and looking for systemic alternatives.
On the other hand, there are thousands of veteran leaders in the trenches of the day-to-day struggle who are recognized experts in their fields. They intuitively share a vision for profound democratic change, and have enormous collective potential. Yet they remain dispersed, unorganized and far less effective than they could be. The moment begs for a truly revolutionary organization in the U.S., communicating with like-minded groups elsewhere, that can create the mass formations and alliances, that can gather these many parts into a powerful whole: an organization, along with its allies, capable of contending for power in our society, and capable of wielding power and transforming, in radically democratic fashion, our communities, companies, local, state, and federal governments, and major institutions.
4. A New Party?
We want to be clear. We are not calling for forming a new party; the conditions - in theory, in program and in practice - are not yet ready for that goal. Yet we also want to be clear that such a goal is necessary and desirable, and we want to help achieve it. This organization we are calling for, nonetheless, must be profoundly skilled and creative. It cannot wage class struggle if it defines itself outside of the actual terrain where policy and program is being contested. It must contend with the ruling elites around all the vital issues of the day, around programs of economic and political democracy, justice, and solidarity in the market place, the state, and civil society. It must be as effective and creative in advancing a practical alternative as it is in opposing the current system, its leaders, and its apologists. It must be as capable in the work of advancing and building, as it is in opposing and fighting.
It must be effective in linking its work inside key institutions to its work outside key institutions in allied arenas in pursuit of its program. Both arenas for activity are essential for success and require sophistication and skill in maintaining a constructive tension and not tearing the cloth. This includes critical work in the labor movement, in educational and governmental institutions, in businesses and business associations, in the environmental justice movement as well as the mainstream environmental organizations, etc. For instance, our country's electoral laws and regulations - winner-take-all primaries, bars to fusion candidates, etc. - extremely hinder the prospects of both third or fourth parties as well as popular caucuses or factions in the dominant parties. This means we must be skilled in working in all circumstances - inside and outside of dominant institutions, partisan and nonpartisan, in the Democratic Party, in the Green Party - and others until breakthroughs can be won that make other forms of mass organization possible.
Finally, our movement must go to scale and truly have a mass base and the ability to leverage enormous resources. This goal should be constantly in our discussions as a measure of success. On the other hand, our leadership group will by definition be small and professional, open and discreet, 'red' and 'grey,' and always persistent and patient. We must operate as a collective that has growing visibility, but also growing depth that involves many who can't or shouldn't be visible. We will be judged by what we leverage and accomplish.
5. Style of Work: Both Democratic and Professional
We will also have a distinctive organizational and leadership style. It will embrace the complexity of our objectives together with the most rigorous approach possible to intellectual life - research, debate, polemics, leadership, popular education and popular exposure.
We will systematically pursue the education and training of those who join our ranks and support our approach. In a polite but firm way we must develop an intolerance for the superficiality, sectarianism, dogmatism, amateurishness, and narrowness that has characterized the left (revolutionary, democratic, and utopian) for decades.
On the other hand, the critique of the anti-democratic and chauvinist character of leadership in much of the left has been on target more often than not - even if the correction wasn't complete. We must demonstrate a profound commitment to democracy and participation in all aspects of our work - externally and internally - and contribute to a dynamic understanding of exactly how democracy manifests itself within our movement and in society.
The organization must consolidate its membership and leadership around a common theoretical, programmatic, and organizational vision that is superior in all respects to those we oppose and seek to replace. It must combat and reject methods and standards that are marginal, narrow, and unprofessional. We must sharply raise the prestige of those in pursuit of fundamental change so that even our bitterest opponents will begrudgingly have to respect our intellectual and organizational depth and capacity.
6. Our Proposal
We propose the creation of such an organization. We need to build the road as we travel, but we definitely need to begin now. Our first step is to create a virtual network, through web sites and egroups, of those who define and share our key principles and who will systematically engage in the intellectual and practical work required to develop a comprehensive programmatic framework. This framework must profoundly reflect both the realities of social, economic, and political life in our society as well as offer clear and effective short and long term solutions. Such a combination is required as the intellectual foundation for mobilizing masses of people, as well as recruiting leaders and supporters to our ranks.
The Web as a Collective Organizer. The SolidarityEconomy.net website - Seeking the Broadest Participation
This virtual network will have a public web site: a 'think tank without walls' having a few articles and debates open to any who wish to visit, with a greater range of articles and discussions to those who will pay a modest subscription fee. The reach of this site should be as broad as possible and be the open face of our efforts. Anyone in the US or the international community can subscribe to this site, write articles, or offer commentary, of course with the guidance of editors to insure high quality exchange.
The Where to Begin Network - a Leadership Core
The other form of communication will be a closed e-group only for those who share the core assumptions of this paper, Where to Begin, who regularly pay dues as described below, and who regularly contribute (at least on a quarterly basis) to the site in the form of an article, a polemic, a debate, or commentary.
Members of the WTB Network must have active and regular engagement in building the intellectual life and program of our network. In this closed e-group, our network will critically discuss the theory and practice of our movement and provide a basis that defines our differences as well as points of unity with other political currents. Our shared objective is to develop a detailed program for structural reform in our society, as well as a socialist program for the US. This network will be US-based - certainly shaped by the work of the international community, but have a particular responsibility for bringing about fundamental change in the US.
This will be a relatively small but increasingly disciplined network that will also organize and recruit others to this effort. The main product for this smaller network, for the time being, is the building of the larger and more public web site. We will selectively recruit to the WTB Network those who share our key assumptions to insure a relatively high level of unity as a foundation for common work and debate.
None of us have the time or interest in intellectual or practical activity that leads nowhere. We will recruit those who already have circles of influence, including their own professional work as well as their participation in various organizations, movements, coalitions, and institutions. The role of the WTB Network is to assist each of us in being better in our work within our various circles of influence and, through us, to expand the work of these circles, raise its level, and increase its connections. The WTB Network will be a source of needed pressure on each of us, cajoling, encouraging, and pushing us to be more engaged and more effective.
Those associated with the WTB Network are expected to engage fully through reading, writing, and testing the ideas and concepts in the course of their daily work. Through this common effort we will test our ability to create a network that is guided by our best collective wisdom and experience, that demonstrates its discipline and hard work, and that demonstrates the potential for organizational strength around a contemporary revolutionary program.
We are a network that draws from the best of the socialist, communist, revolutionary, feminist, environmentalist and other democratic movements in the developed and developing worlds. We are bold in our critique of the obvious shortcomings and failures of those movements and use those lessons to inform our vision and program. High on the list of shortcomings of the socialist world was the failure to fully utilize the positive aspects of the marketplace and to contend effectively with capital in that arena as well as in the struggle for the state. Equally high on the list was the failure to develop the democracy in society and in the struggle itself. We have learned from the strengths and advances of capitalist society as well as its cruel and destructive aspects.
The Importance of Study
We encourage deeper study among those in our Network, with a particular emphasis on including younger activists and leaders, the next generation. We need to use this study as a means of creating curriculum and resource materials that can be used by all members of our network in recruitment and leadership development.
Confidentiality and Security
We recognize the importance of confidentiality. Many of our members don't want to be individually known for professional, political, or personal reasons. To the degree we gain strength, the issue of confidentiality will become key in preserving the strength and capacity of the Network in the face of the threats and actions of those we oppose. Discretion should be the assumption that underlies our culture. We need to be bold and creative to expand our network and influence, but also cautious and discreet to protect our network and to allow a broad range of leaders from all aspects of society to participate freely and actively in our work.
We expect each person in the network to contribute a minimum of $10 a month. For those making more than $50,000, we expect $20 a month, and for those making $100,000 or more, we expect a minimum level of support of $30 a month. This can be done in cash, through a bank draft, or any other regular means. Our future depends on the creation of a pool of resources that will permit staffing, technology, and broader communications.
We will develop an editorial board that will manage the web site and debate, providing the diversity and skill needed to sustain confidence in the quality of this effort. We will work for a balance on the board of theoretical and practical skills, of range of experience in various fronts of struggle, and of generations.
Time Frame We see the Network developing over the next couple of years, measuring its strength in the breadth and depth of our political exchange, in the number of participants and the level of their engagement, in the material resources we can assemble and the success of the public web site. In that time, we should know whether or not we have the knowledge, skill, and capacity to consider a more advanced organizational form, or not.
Our views, models, and connections are profoundly shaped by the international community; but our responsibility is to build a movement within the US that makes the appropriate contribution to the international struggle for social change. We really have no other choice except to make this effort. We can't be comfortable in our critique of the failings of others in this period or in other generations unless we are willing to step forward with our own creation. We are uniquely privileged in the distance from the dangers that threaten others in the world who share our values, dreams, and struggle. Continuing individual contributions without an effort to build collective strength is a luxury we can no longer justify to ourselves, our friends, our comrades, or the next generation. Are you in? To get involved, please send an e-mail to: email@example.com or post a comment below.