Exclusively in the new print issue of CounterPunch
MARX: A HERO FOR OUR TIME? — Suddenly, everyone from the Wall Street Journal to Rolling Stone seems to be talking about Karl Marx. Louis Proyect delves into this mysterious resurgence, giving a vivid assessment of Marx’s relevance in the era of globalized capitalism. THE MEANING OF MANDELA: Longtime civil rights organizer Kevin Alexander Gray gives in intimate portrait of Nelson Mandela and the global struggle of racial justice. FALLOUT OVER FUKUSHIMA: Peter Lee investigates the scandalous exposure of sailors on board the USS Reagan to radioactive fallout from Fukushima. SOUTHERN DISCOMFORT: Kim Nicolini charts the rise of Matthew McConaughey. PLUS: Mike Whitney on the coming crash of the housing market. JoAnn Wypijewski on slavery, torture and revolt. Chris Floyd on the stupidity of US policy in Ukraine. Kristin Kolb on musicians and health care. And Jeffrey St. Clair on life and death on the mean streets of an America in decline
Working the SIdelines

Why a Left Movement Has Never Really Happened

by CHARLES HAYMARKET

In my heart I’m a lifelong leftist, but a very frustrated one. I see too little of a movement at a time, when it’s never been more needed. I understand too often the movement was run by white men talking over everyone, so I’ll not be bossy and be as brief as possible. Here are the reasons why I never felt plugged in, and possibly, why many others, especially workers, don’t tend to join. I’m not blaming. Maybe you saw it different, but maybe some of this will help in trying to gather a thriving movement. The dialogue has moved so far to the Wrong Wing that “leftism” or “leftist” are seen as almost dirty words today, but almost every single beneficial thing in society we had, and barely have left, was originally a leftie cause. And against major opposition. All of these gains were paid for by blood in the streets, literally. We owe it to the martyrs to remember, to never forget; yet, it’s so hard to keep gains and to progress further. Each of us found, events, groups, and protests at different times so a few years, months, days, or minutes could easily have changed the whole experience.

The overall, first major reason, is we compete against a gigantic corporate owned tsunami of purposeful idiocy, by an army of high paid spokes idiots on all the airwaves. TV, in particular, is a brainwashing machine that would even make Joseph Goebbels blush. We have to slowly undo their instantaneous media lies with of our truth. And do that without much access at all to the so called public airwaves. It’s encouraging when Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore, Chis Hedges, Naomi Klein, and so many other great thinkers break through, and it’s encouraging to see their ideas resonate. People love them. We need far more of that. Like the chapter in Moore’s Stupid White Men book, people poll much further far to the liberal/left than the media credits them with. We don’t have big left donors like the Koch brothers. It is our piggy banks against their billions. It’s probably why Air America went down. Every advance of left ideals has been hard fought to get established, then hard fought again, as it was wrecked and undone. We have to dust ourselves off and push further.

 

People are hungry in their hearts for these ideas. They know our present path is can’t last. It’s produced a world of want, while a tiny handful have the vast majority of the cash, resources, and our politician’s ears. They are able to ride roughshod over us, because we practically have to concede the field. It’s a very noisy battle, but for now, only their side gets a national voice. Job one is to fix this dramatic imbalance. Education is the key in fixing dumbed down nation. Just in my lifetime, leftism, liberalism, and even minor democratic thinking, has been totally vilified by the Wrong Wing. Why do we call them right wing? When are they ever right? The entire public conversation has shifted so far to the Wrong Wing that it poses as near center, almost mainstream now, which allows the so called “liberal media” to create and spin even more outrageous Wrong Wing talking points, as outright propaganda, or for an appearance of objectivity, always an unobtainable ideal in a media completely owned by a corporate driven agenda. It’s their professed mantra, but there is never a true balance.

Five huge corporations, guided by wrong wing values, owns every media outlet. We already tried most of the Wrong Wing’s horrible ideas and they failed. Legislation was fought in place to stop their abuses. The lack of a collective memory, with constant media misdirection, let’s paid shills undo those laws, dragging our nation back to the future. A failed past, offered as the way forward, with too few voices to remind us we’ve already been there, regarding poor worker safety, no voting rights laws, with no livable wage, or proper housing, along with so many other pressing issues. Issues we long ago should’ve gone forward on. For instance, we work eight hours a day. An accident? No. It  took a hundred years to get eight hours legislated as a work day. Like voting rights, it had to be enacted and enforced by federal law. The bosses will never do the proper thing on their own without force. Their police murdered workers in the streets for decades, trying to get the 10 hour day, then decades more for the 8 hour day, and to stop child labor. We not only allow the corporate owners to export all of these abuses to the Third World, we allow them to also be subsidized by our tax dollars to do it, the same way our taxes subsidize their massive CEO pay.

The owners do not mind that it’s a world wide race to the bottom regarding hours, wages and safety. There has been no time in America when the left had a seat at the table of power. The best years, for most people, were the mid 1960s to mid 1970s, anti-Vietnam War to No Nukes era. We seemed powerful during, and slightly post war, but fell into smaller identity groups and issues after.We only won the culture war. Maybe. If we keep the gains. Another time in history was the late 1800s into the pre – World War 1 era, after the horrors of slavery, the Civil War, and decimating the Native Nations, sparked the U.S. peace and justice movement, and even a Populist Movement. The ideas of Marx, Engels, unions, trade guilds, fraternities about  worker’s rights bloomed across Europe, to join practical ideas here. Eugene Debs was widely popular. Millions of people felt Socialism had real merit. Soon Mine, Mills, and Factory unions grew, and even unaffiliated , like the I.W.W., The International Workers Of The World, more famously known as Wobblies, became widespread. Their efforts threatened owners so much they were brutally beaten and some members given huge prison sentences, when not murdered. I dream I see Joe Hill every night, in a nation that barely remembers him.

The companies and government fought, but didn’t destroy, others unions like the AFL, which  later joined the CIO. Unions were slowly usurped by industry and government, then taken over by criminals. Companies moving to “Right To Work” southern states, Reaganism, and endless compromise nearly extinguished them. Now they’re tiny and easily whipped, but it’s the only solution to ever having real worker’s rights. Unions delivered the only long term safety and wage improvements for working people. It helped all of society. Early union organizing was brutal. You never knew when a snitch, or agent, would end your life. Later, it was more about your family, and business connections. I was lucky to have an Uncle who knew all this history. Most people don’t know or remember. They see their city possibly thriving, and don’t realize that an instant corporate decision can make their lives hollowed out like Detroit. Companies flee overseas to avail themselves of far worse conditions, and far lower pay. You might think with all this love, knowledge, and passion for them, that I’m a union man, but I’ve never once been asked, or allowed, to join a union. Nor allowed to organize, no matter how badly  I needed it. My life was the worse for it. All our lives are worse without unions. Unions groom activists.

The picket line, sit down strikes, or walk outs, are all original union tactics that moved over to  the Peace, Justice, Civil Rights, and anti-war movements, but they won’t help whenever the company moves overseas. They don’t help when the government turns blind. The companies essentially walk out on us. No discussion, no bargaining. Just go to Walmart and buy the crap you used to make, if you can afford it. Businesses and government rolls on with its rogue, self enriching program oblivious to us all. They no longer hear a word we the people say. Millions protested the Iraq Invasion, but it drags on, and those huge demonstrations are now long ago echos. The government’s arrogance and elitism cuts across all strata of society. There is a two sided elitism in society as a whole, and deep in left circles as well. One is defined by age, and the other by education level. If you were born a minute after any boomer, you might as well stay quiet. Ironic, this later became born a second before an X’er. Either side of that age and you are almost mute. Especially so, if you were in college or had a university event. At that point the strata was based on under, and post grad, levels.

Later many activist groups demanded college degrees, with a Master or a Phd, if you wanted leadership. Working people, even veteran activists, were too often shunned by the learned ones. It had a great bearing on tactics and how effective the tactics were, and were not. Being leftist is hard enough work. One has to study a lot and know the issues, but it takes the wind completely out people’s sales if someone who studied War 101 over rides those who did not attend college, but had actually been in war. It was sad to be continually gut checked by party hard liners, or dogmatic intellectuals, or naive wanna be types, to see that your ideas were thought bourgeois , when you had got your head cracked the last few demonstrations while they were busy studying, or leading some steering committee. Since the September 11, 2001 terror false flag, our government has become far more abusive, arrogant and unresponsive, treating citizens like enemy combatants, to be spied on, harassed, threatened, locked up, or gang stalked. Leftist activists in particular get this treatment. It is no fun for a working person to fight for justice, laying  it all on the line, but be lectured about “the workers” by someone whose Daddy, or Ivory Tower purchased their lecturing ways.

I was born too late for much of the anti- Vietnam War groups, but those members held sway in every activist group after, taking, or trying to, all leadership. But sometimes they would get marginalized too. If channeled correctly, it’s awesome knowledge. If channeled improperly, it is just boomer snobbery. Eventually one wears out on it, whether from academics, or lifer  legacy activists, particularly Trots, or from young anarchy types, that can’t define what that even is. Working people get things done. We are usually at our jobs during the planning meetings based on student, or professional’s schedules. We might not know all the minutia of arch analysis, but we make clever signs, make things instead of talk about it, and maybe can keep you from getting beat up. I don’t really want to hear about how to evade riot police injuries by someone doing their Master’s thesis on it. I want street knowledge. And every step along the way, as individuals and a movement, we were hamstrung by “pacifism”. Violence may not be the answer, but we get no respect by not defending ourselves. Everybody honors Gandhi and Dr. King, but we don’t face a long ago power structure with enough of a conscience to give way. Presently, ours is sicker, more abusive, and drunk on power.

Our power structure loves its abuses. It might pay million dollar lawsuits to a lucky few later, but it will mess you up today. Many of us celebrate Cubans, the Viet Cong and Nicaragua, and Zapatistas, yet somehow, it’s never ever time for a violent overthrow here at home, in this  most violent of nations, one founded on violence, predicated on violence, that seeks only violence. In some future, apparently for the first time in human history, a government that spends massive efforts, and money, for its pipe dream of Total Spectrum Dominance to try to prop up for its world wide Petro Dollar fiat currency control scam, will see our parades, look at our signs, hear our chants, and simply give us back our rights, our freedoms, and peace again. It’s frustrating to continually be taught non-violence, like a religion, by scholars usually home when violence hits. It’s beyond frustrating to live and work in the ghetto yet get shunned by academics who say we can’t keep have a gun for personal protection. The worker, unless he sees Matewan, or Deacons For The Defense, feels we conceded our right to self defense to the domain of Right Wing Militias. A worker may march with you sometimes but generally is not going fully join on those terms.

I personally don’t decry Right Wing Militias, if only as a suburban exercise program. It’s kind of hopeful, how left and right thinking can often converge. Why do we concede worries over the Constitution and Bill Of Rights being usurped to the Righties? It IS long past usurped. It states right in that document that we must dissolve the government whenever its usurpations become intolerable. Do we know our peaceful change is won’t cut it? Now “our” party, the Democrats, usurp these rights. Usurpation is usurpation isn’t it? We worry about a  war crazy government spawning these militia groups as a byproduct, but in practice, they too, see an out of control government, and at least are thinking of ways, however futile, to try to counter it. The same way our government tends to avoid invading nations who could actually fight back, like North Korea, they are far more worried over the righties than our unarmed left. They manipulate it, and stir their hatred, but when they’re caught eaves dropping and directing IRS investigations on them and their Tea Party pals, it shows that they are enemies of the state too. We should stand beside them as brothers in persecution. Yes, they were silent when we got attacked by police, agents and stalkers, but now is a great time to double our ranks.

How can we, as people, and groups, like Move On, simply give Obama a free pass on abuses that we would be livid over had Bush Junior done them? Rightly so. They are the very same abuses. Often Obama has made them worse. We have a government now completely out of control. Why are we too silent? Righties say they want to drown government, which means basically letting corporations to have unfettered control, but it deserves to be drowned and dismantled anyways. The elite tell us our dictator is careful, but those same abusive powers used by the other team is evil? Why do self promoting groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, make detailed reports on “right wing, probable racist groups” yet completely ignore massive Israeli spying and blackmail, from the ADL, AIPAC, JDL and their telecoms, along with  their criminal gang stalkers Protest Warriors? Who commits real crimes, and who simply runs around the woods in cammo and stores canned food? The left neuters itself with elitism and allows arrogance to cuts its own ranks by not addressing ALL government abuses. Our groups in fight and brow beat ourselves on very trivial matters, so how are we going to reach out to others? Workers see this conundrum. They’ll join you on a few things, but never truly join.

Another way of losing out on truly bonding with the left is culture work, particularly playing original music. One runs across strict reconstructionists, who know all great songs came from  Pete Seeger and (maybe) Bob Dylan. One runs against party liners nit picking your lyrics, but then you face the public who is not likely to dance to diatribes. I remember when I released my first record and sent it to the gatekeeper left ‘zines, but they were too busy praising Billy Bragg and The Clash. The Clash helped a little, but I bet no one has ever danced to Billy Bragg or Dave Rovics. Unless you also included Rage Against The Machine, Midnight Oil and Michael Franti, you could not get a crowd for leftie music, as it is now. Too much of it is too boring. There are gifted songs that manage to say something, like Marley and Dylan, but seldom does “saying something” translate into a gifted song. Musicians faces a brutal task of buying gear, getting ideas down, recorded, and out into a cruel market place, as others try to copy, and steal it, or steal our style. The last thing we need is lyric checked by dogmatists who can only get a tiny handful of people to a show they’re kind of miserable at. Working folks are not dumb. They know what fun is. It’s seldom fun to sit around our leftie circles criticizing everything.

I’ve been a vegetarian a long time. Leftie circles are not as cool with that as you might think. How do people matter if animals don’t? How are we human if we don’t consider ALL of the living world? At one time slaves were seen as less than people too. When I started, I could  preach the merits of vegetarianism and few would listen. But now that I’m older, as a living example of how fun it is to age slower, and avoid doctors, it attracts a lot more. I have done Civil Rights and neighborhood work, yet looking white, am sometimes excluded from joining minority groups, As a man I’m typically excluded from women groups. Straights are seldom welcomed in gay groups. I’m part native, but don’t want to trade on that. But if I can go out in the cruel world and get people on their feet rocking, while presenting history, a good living example, and to present ways out of our mess, I don’t deserve to be shunned by a local yokel leader who thinks Bruce wrote the last best song. It chaffs me if my songs are ignored but far worse when my lyrics, style and manner, ends up being stolen by someone who is accepted. If you’re ever given a choice, be a pop star who sometimes says something, not the home boy of ideologues. Stay to the edge of groups who want to control you. Truly joining is a dead end to your soul, and career.

Anyways, to end on a higher note, it was really encouraging to see Occupy. I would prefer to occupy the inside of banks and government until they are jailed, but we do not yet have the numbers. Like the Star Trek episode “Tribbles” I would like to see millions of people fall upon D.C., Wall St, and military centers and pack them so densely, we’d to hand criminal politicians, lobbyists, banksters, war mongers, profiteers and all their enablers, over our heads into jail. Congress has to return to serving us. Even if it takes new members. The Supreme Court needs replaced and all of its errors undone. It was smart talking about the 99% versus the 1%, though it’s probably the top  10% with another top 20% doing their dirty work, that is the issue. If we’d back Occupy with a ground up political party it would start seeing real power. Remember, the Wrong Wing took its power slowly from the bottom, taking over churches, school boards, city councils. People keep saying third parties won’t work, but there was another political party, focused on one issue, slavery, who climbed from a few people gathering to having the White House in just fifteen years. It was Republicans.

They are completely different than their founding creed. So radically deluded from even just a few decades ago, that Ike, Nixon, and even Reagan, would now be too liberal to join them. This needs pointed out loudly. Too many people identify as Republicans over them, and fail to see how far they have been Limbaugh-ized, and Fox-ed away, from their core values. Occupy was  great. So was the original honest Tea Party, not the Koch funded version. They could go further together. Populism is good, even if the powers that be work to usurp it. I was with Occupy. I am a behind- the -scenes type. I do things, make posters, tend to logistics and leave leadership to those who cat fight over it. Occupy’s leaderless example literally saved their lives, as the FBI colluded with businesses to assassinate them. But as a worker, I wasn’t homeless hippie drum circle anarchy punk enough to really fit in. Frankly, most of the 99% isn’t that style either. So I stayed on the edges trying to keep people from being hurt. Why did other workers not join in? We occupy our jobs, and can not just camp out. Workers saw too many spare change types, not a sustainable movement. A movement isn’t about just hanging out. It has to pay its own way equitably, otherwise it’s just another party, and a poor party at that, not a Political Party people want to join. I’ll keep working the sidelines. I have no other team, but thought I would say this. Good luck to us all.

Charles Haymarket is a life long activist, organizer, author, watchmaker timepiece technician,  and original music playing half of The Haymarket Orphans, a cool band you should have heard. He can be reached at Haymarketorphans@hotmail.com