A minimum program for a progressive majority

Here’s a suggestion for minimum program for a progressive majority. This is a framework of principles that left forces could use to unite majorities in competitive battles at, primarily, the local and state levels. It does not spell out local demands. The idea is to define the framework of what it takes to change direction for working people. It envisions that shift as a list of reforms, but ones requiring a revolutionary shift in class relations to achieve. Reader comments are welcome.

Minimum program of democracy for working people

1. Health care, education, and retirement are human rights. Useful employment is both a right and a duty.

2. Economic policy, including trade policy and financial regulation, should not only strive to maximize employment and minimize inflation, but also strive to insure the incomes of working people rise in proportion to the wealth they create.

3. Corporations are NOT persons. Their direct influence on elections should be minimized if not completely prohibited. Corporate and labor law reform must be implemented with appropriate employee and public (including environmental) representation at highest levels.

4. Equality of opportunity. Invest in the abilities of the people. Strive to tell the truth about, and repair, past injustice.

5. Equality before the law. Patterns of judicial accommodation to racism and other forms of social inequality must be reversed.

6. Steady expansion of demilitarized public goods and services as social wealth permits.

7. Support for global governance tools to address global inequality (including taxing global corporations and billionaires).

8. Acceptance of global multipolarity (that is, rejection of “unipolarity,” or imperialism) as a framework for achieving a more stable, governable, peaceful, and livable world.

9. Reshape market forces to meet pressing public needs. Market forces directly affect the wealth and lives of most Americans. Thus they are also inherently powerful political forces, which no political party can ignore. However there are notable examples in U.S. history where these forces were mastered, and reshaped and restructured to address urgent public needs. It was no accident that vast new opportunities for market goods and services were made possible by the government-led restructurings during and following the Civil War, and World Wars I and II.  

It is time for a new example, removing the obstacles to broader democracy, wider economic opportunity and shared prosperity.

In designing such transformative public policies, disinterested science is an ever more important and critical tool, especially as new global public spaces are created and sustained by advanced technology.

In energy, in manufacturing, in infrastructure, in housing, in finance, in food, there are urgent and unmet transformative needs that cannot be corrected without asserting more scientific, and thus, more public, direction over these resources, at least until they are restructured in a manner compatible with balanced, equitable, environmentally sustainable growth.

Notes and definitions

1. A minimum democratic program for working people of all professions, occupations and trades defines a set of principles and policies that correspond to a necessary historical shift in relations between social and economic classes – a shift toward greater empowerment of working people in all spheres of life, and a significant relative loss of empowerment for corporate and billionaire interests.

2. The word “necessary” is important. A necessary shift is one that, without which, social, economic and political institutions based on truly outmoded class, racial, ethnic, gender and national relations will irreversibly decay and fail, and must be replaced or restored by a new coalition of forces. A minimum demand, or principle, is necessary when its absence robs the democratic movement and coalition of the strength and allies required to prevail against its adversaries.

3. Both the Civil War era and the Depression/World War II era dramatically demonstrate past necessary shifts in American history. In the Civil War era, the classes of slaveowner and enslaved were abolished, as incompatible with the further development of industrialization and commerce in a democratic republic.

In the Depression/World War II, the huge investment in working class human capital and broad democratic political and economic empowerment combined to dramatically reject the Gilded Age domination of the financial and industrial elites, and to instead vastly expand upon the Progressive Era with Social Security, unemployment insurance, universal education, veterans’ benefits and enhanced union rights. The civil rights, women’s, gay and lesbian, and immigrant movements, the fights for Medicaid, Medicare, and children’s health coverage all arose in waves out of the worldwide democratic upheaval spurred by the massive defeat of fascism symbolized by the Axis powers, and the subsequent defeat of colonialism. Even the Affordable Care Act is part of the unfinished business of that upheaval.

4. Certain sections of capital – of multinational big businesses and billionaires – have allied with very anti-democratic and plutocratic forces to accumulate vastly disproportionate wealth, institutional power, and privilege at the price of the destruction of the rights, safety, health and welfare of the rest of society.

5. Many have thought, or hoped, that the famed “balance of powers” protections of United States constitutional law could somehow escape the  old truth that concentrated wealth leads to concentrated power leads to concentrated wealth…. However, the behavior of the U..S economy and politics since the financial crisis in 2008 confirms economist Thomas Piketty’s conclusion that “natural” market forces under capitalism powerfully tend toward greater inequality and more corrupt institutions; and that partial or complete revolutionary measures may be required merely to reverse course. This is another way to define what is in, and not in, the minimum program: What are the minimum governing principles and policies required to reverse course on inequality, democracy, and worker income?

6. Multinational energy, natural resources, agribusiness, real estate, defense and aligned financial corporations, and the billionaire interests that control them, constitute the principal forces with a stranglehold on the Republican Party, some Democrats, and key institutions: the Supreme Court, the House of Representatives, the State and Defense Department establishments. Further, globalization in financial services, supply chains, and information and transportation infrastructures has enabled these corporations and billionaires to move their wealth virtually lawlessly across the globe, seeking both the greatest returns, and providing the safest havens from government regulation or taxation by any nation.

7. A “multipolar” framework for weighing national and international interests is a necessary step for turning away from imperial, unipolar views on security. Recognizing the reality of multipolarism, of the end of the George Bush “neocon” fantasy of a “new [U.S.-dominated] world order” following the collapse of the USSR, is required to move toward the structures, institutions and fraternal relations that can make shared security and cooperative environmental, labor and trade regulation workable. In other words: away from imperialism and toward internationalism. Recent modest efforts in this direction by Obama, and the stiff resistance they have met from some powerful quarters, is proof enough that the change in direction globally will be a complex and contradictory process.

8. Some constraints on the “reverse course” party, coalition, movement:

* The democratic revolution will be as complete as it can be under our current system of commodity relations when wealth is proportional to merit/labor; and when working class organizations and interests can compete politically, in proportion to their strength, unity and values, for leadership of society. Not before. (These are basically unfulfilled bourgeois rights.)

* The “reverse course” program does not abolish capitalism but does seek to better manage and optimize outcomes in both competitive markets and public goods and services. It does not target functioning markets, but moves resolutely to assert public interests where there are market failures.

* The “reverse course” must alter the legal status of corporations, including a larger public and employee role and increased responsibility for stewardship of resources. The fulfillment of the democratic revolution in the U.S. in this era – the building of “a more perfect union” – is about a different coalition of class forces gaining the leadership of government, the state, and key economic institutions.

* In general the extent  and intensity and forms of public intervention should be guided primarily by the overall requirements of growth, sustainability, and equity and the broadest democratic unity of the people.

* The environmental challenges of human-caused global warming will impose serious economic and security threats to both progress and democracy.

* Alternatives to market-driven growth and development will emerge but can only become dominant as the division of labor, capital and resources based on commodities recedes, and the domain of public goods, services and intangibles expands. This must be the result, not of ideological conviction, but of enlightened inquiry and experience. The right to advocate and scientifically test these alternatives free from narrow perspectives of profit-driven firms is a key feature of advanced democracy.

9. Consider a table top that has a shifting shape, surface, and distribution of weight. How many legs does it need? For example: I see most workers not held directly hostage by their employer or family as a centering trunk leg. Nationally and racially oppressed peoples, women, youth, seniors, intellectuals and artists, scientists, knowledge workers, most small business forces and larger firms and corporations in as many of the innovative and productive sections of capital as possible – all of these provide the other legs. The minimum program has to equal a better life, a real increase in franchise and empowerment, and light to a sustainable future for all these forces.

10. Evaluating these alliances down to essential principles and values – the legs of the table – must weight these forces appropriately,

11, The minimum program is a list of reforms – but it is revolutionary to the extent that the reforms require a change in class relations and leadership of institutions to realize.

12. By concentrating on the fulfillment of bourgeois rights, on the expansion of entitlements and the achievement of equity (from each according ot their ability, to each according to their work), the minimum program enables the true approach to what Karl Marx called socialism, or, the first stage of communist society. But the true name, and destiny, of that society that an advanced democracy will build and create we cannot know, other than it will signify an evolutionary step as profound as any our species has experienced, or dreamt.

13. The impact of working class empowerment in society will be immense and complex and multidimensional. In order for it to have real political and social legs, it must have and develop some very strong moral currents with respect to leadership. Values and character are the handles most people look to first at when deciding whether to trust or not trust political leadership. The struggles of the modern working class for survival and justice shape those values. They are, or certainly include:

* Simplicity and modesty – Seek the rise of the working class, and not to rise above it.
* Peace and conflict resolution before conflict.
* Integrity – strive to know, learn, and speak the truth. Give your word carefully. Keep it.
* Community and solidarity – we are our own protection. Take care of each other.
* Equality.
* Stewardship of the earth, its life, and property of the people.

Photo: Wisconsin workers take over state Capitol in Madison, Feb. 18, 2011. Teresa Albano/PW


John Case
John Case

John Case is a former electronics worker and union organizer with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (UE), also formerly a software developer, now host of the WSHC "Winners and Losers" radio program in Shepherdstown, W.Va.