Millions make change


The two main eras of progressive change in our country in the last century were accompanied by a broad and spirited upsurge of people.

In the Depression years, a powerful people's movement, in the forefront of which was the working class and its organized sector (trade unions), crystallized into a mighty force for social progress. It was the backbone of a series of people's legislative victories - Social Security, unemployment insurance, welfare benefits, the right to organize into unions, etc.

Three decades later a movement led by Martin Luther King broke the back of legal segregation and enacted civil rights laws, while at the same time inspiring a host of popular struggles that followed on its heels.

Both movements - of the 1930s and the 1960s - were diverse, mass, militant and spontaneous as well as organized. Both combined political action and mass action. And both, as mentioned, were decisive to the change process specific to their era.

In other words, had they not been on the scene at the time, progressive change would either not have occurred or occurred in a much more limited way.

Which brings me to the present. Following the recent debt agreement between the president and the Republicans, progressive and left voices were critical of the administration. Many felt that it gave up too much and got little in return.

There is truth here, but I'm not sure if that is main lesson that should be drawn from this deal.

For me what stands out is the inadequate mobilization of the American people in this struggle. To be sure, the seniors movement left its imprint on the process in so far as entitlement programs were not touched for the time being. But that shouldn't obscure the larger reality that too many Americans were onlookers, waiting to see what would happen behind closed doors in the nation's capital.

If this were a problem specific to only this struggle, it would be one thing, but it isn't. It dates back to the day after the election of Obama.

For whatever reasons, the level of mass activity at the national level hasn't approached that which took shape in the course of the 2008 election campaign. During the campaign mass activity was broad, grassroots, united and sustained over time. It brought millions into organized activity as well as influenced the thinking and actions of many more millions who went to the polls.

But it didn't carry over to the post-election period. And in not doing so it reduced the progressive potential of the Obama victory since then.

Social progress without mass pressure is never easy in a capitalist system. Capitalism is structured to resist change of a progressive and radical nature. But it is especially tough going in circumstances where the right wing controls many levers of power, as it currently does.

Indeed, without a powerful people's movement mobilizing millions and advancing a program of a progressive character, the political discourse will tack to the right and legislative victories will be few and far between, as in the present situation.

The political imperative of this moment, therefore, is clear: the quantitative and qualitative strengthening of the people's movement for progressive change.

Whether it happens depends on the human factor, that is, on what ordinary people do. Just as the initiatives and actions of the American people were an essential ingredient in the progressive-democratic thrust in the 1930s and 1960s, so too will the initiatives and actions of millions feeling the awful weight of this terrible and protracted economic crisis be essential in today's conditions.

Seize the time!

Photo: Stand Up Chicago rally, June 14, 2011. PW

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  • What do you think of the proposed Occupy Wall Street demonstration planned for September 17th?

    On the one hand, it might be a mass rally: the link suggests it could be the start of an American Fall to accompany the Arab Spring (or the Spanish Gates occupation) that could promote the kind of mass support and involvement that progressive forces are looking for. Organizers are hoping for 20,000 people on Wall Street, but it could turn out to be much bigger. And what if it really turns into an occupation and not a one day event?

    On the other hand, if the Bloomberg/Obama government repression is too severe, it could hurt Obama's chances of getting re-elected (and that could hurt progressive forces).

    The attached article, from a financial web site, suggests that the occupation will fail because of a lack of clear goals and consciousness. Will progressive forces participate? How?

    Posted by Gary Semenchuk, 09/07/2011 10:41am (4 years ago)

  • Obama sure kept his 2008 "Hope & change"campaign promise....Keep hoping for that change America.

    Posted by mike, 09/03/2011 3:13am (4 years ago)

  • Seize the time and -- what? Vote Democrat?
    Obama and the Congressional Democrats are as much an enemy as Boehner & the "Tea Party."
    It's a Good Cop, Bad Cop Act.
    The Repubs plunge the knife into us with gusto.
    The Dems do it with apologies.
    The exceptions are the very grassroots Dems such as in the Wisconsin upsurge, who don't take corporate & Wall St money, and fight alongside us.

    The Webb analysis above, servile support for the Dems, is itself responsible for the demobilization of at least part of the US left. It represents no-struggle opportunism. It even blames the US people for the crimes committed by the rulers.

    Obama had better pray that the Republicans nominate a barbarian such as Perry or Bachmann. The new forces that put Obama over the top in 2008: youth, first-time voters, people of color, antiwar voters, labor activists, the unemployed, aren't going to bother this time.

    Posted by Joe Jamison, 09/02/2011 11:11am (4 years ago)

  • An amorphous mass movement by itself, without direction, will lead either to defeat, anarchy, or else accomplish nothing at all. What is required is leadership. This must be provided by the Party. It can only be provided by the Party actively engaged in education in class consciousness among the workers and the oppressed. It is the duty of the Party to be actively engaged in providing a real alternative to the present political system and the police-military structure that enforces the interests of the present economic system. The political and police-military system now in pace and which is identical with the government serves only the interests of the present economic system that is controlled by the corporations , the monopoly capitalists, and the rest of the big bourgeoisie robber barons. What I understand by ‘the dictatorship of the proletarian elite’ is that it is the duty of the Communist Party to educate the workers and the oppressed, to direct and lead the fight for economic and social justice, and to establish and direct the workers’ state in the interests of the proletariat, the oppressed, the impoverished, the elderly, the sick and the disabled. Presently, there are few, or really NO, alternatives to the two-party system, which, for all practical purposes, constitutes merely two wings of one party, the party of the bourgeoisie. The ‘liberal’ democrats and their ‘progressive’ allies have lost the will to fight for their professed ideals (witness Obama’s successive ‘retreats’ before the demands of the extreme right -- is he really the ‘liberal’ he sometimes pretends to be?), while much of the working class votes against its own class interests, having been gulled, bamboozled, duped, and outright lied to, by the corporate-owned media, the religious right, and the politicians who serve capital. Now even assuming that Comrade Webb’s assessment of the reasons for the current regression to the right, that Comrade Humphrey’s assessment of the reasons for the tiredness and skepticism of the masses, and that Comrade Baldwin’s judgment about Obama’s intentions are all correct, then unless we can bestow upon Obama, the ‘liberal’ Democrats, and the progressives a spinal column to go along with Obama’s ‘hubris’, we cannot rely upon them to defeat the capitalists; and unless we can provide alternative leadership, enthusiasm and purpose upon the proletariat, the oppressed, and their active constituents, we cannot reverse the depredations of Capital or prevent them from continuing further depredations. This takes leadership, educating the proletariat and the oppressed in the reality of class consciousness and their true class interests, and activism. Forward to Communism!

    Posted by Irving, 09/01/2011 3:31pm (4 years ago)

  • Yes, Sammy was arguing and pointing this out shortly
    after the 2008 election, as were many others, but what
    is the magic, the cascading moment that propels and
    jells and lends the imperitive to the demands that need to be made. So much went into 2008, being blatantly robbed of two election cycles, the frustration
    of allowing these mass murderers to hijack foreign policy, the banks and wall st thefts of public monies via the housing scams, all pretty propelling issues as we were desperate for some progressive change, to get rid of these republicans. The only way to kindle a fire now is to forget about Obama, focus on the issues, we have to start complaining and blaming, loudly. We are being robbed. Robbed by Wall st, by the banks, by the pentagon, complex, by union busting republican governors, by greedy ceo's, by gangster capitalism that has purchased the laws that makes their thievery legal. by the top .01 %. ...ed.

    Posted by e Humphrey, 08/30/2011 8:15pm (4 years ago)

  • Yes, governmental change comes when "leaders" fear for their jobs because of pressure, whether from the people, or from money, or from their social group, which you usually can read as money. People with bone-deep convictions, whether thought out or not, are harder to move. As weak as Obama has seemed sometimes, he may be one of those with bone-deep convictions. In his case, it is a belief in himself. Early on, he was asked how he was going to get his Change with some of his Wall Street appointees. He said, "the change will come from me." This was hubris, and I personally don't think he has given it up. I think he means it when he says he is prepared to be a one-term president. I think he means that he will not back down from this belief that Barack Obama is the only adult. Trying to change a person like this may be less productive than trying to replace him. (So far, we can only replace "leaders;" not much hope of replacing the system.)

    Posted by Mark Baldwin, 08/30/2011 1:37pm (4 years ago)

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