The late, great General Baker taught us that one of the powerful untold stories of the 20th century was elimination of the radicals from the trade union movement. From that McCarthyite Taft-Hartley cold war purge of unions, to the resurgence of labor militance in our new 21st century strike wave, learning lessons like Gen taught is a powerful experience and tool for organizing our fightbacks.
It occurs to me that a similar untold story of power happening all around us in younger generations involves the “right” demonstrated capacities – and “left” incapacity – to learn from our mistakes and from our adversaries’ victories. From the 30,000 foot level where Dems are “left” and the rightwing looks even more united than (tho just as white as) it actually is, let me try to explain with generations of examples drawn for simplicity from that broad D/R binary tendency as expressed crudely in decades of presidential leadership:
Rightwing power has learned how to:
- Communicate and build trust with the masses from Franklin Roosevelt’s fireside chats about world calamities;
- Run the cold war from Truman;
- Lead boldly from Kennedy;
- Leverage token diversity from Johnson;
- Pray as politicians in public from Carter;
- Lie shamelessly from the Clintons; and
- Use empty rhetoric from Obama.
Suffice it to say that the broadly conceived ‘left’ appears to have learned virtually nothing from Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan or the Bushes, as demonstrated by the shocking emptiness at best, senescent corruption at worse, of Hillary Clinton and Biden as national candidates, and the continuing mass-plurality neofascist faux-populist appeal of Trump and his little legacy candidates! Dems can’t beat something with nothing in class-dominated, white supremacist-colonized US electoral contests, with no vision of transformed democracy and improved, much more equitably shared public benefits. Decades of these discarded formulae, now co-opted by frankly insane governors of states like Florida and Texas, reinforce what I heard Gen say the last time I saw him: We should do more propaganda! Enough of accepting white lies instead of teaching and learning actual grassroots history, where multiracial leadership in our movements has always been one of the most important determinants of success.
What further lessons would Gen derive from this longstanding disparity in corporate ability to strategize from their opponents’ – our great social movements’ – mistakes? A few tentative and hopefully provocative thoughts:
- Understand and focus our actions against those with power, not the nameless and faceless (e.g., “voters”) victims of their scams. Punch up!;
- Think from symbolic speech and actions to direct actions with teeth (remember the sit down strikes before the purge of the radicals from unions and act accordingly) Get down!; and
- Union organizing is like freedom school is like peace zones for life is like transforming ourselves and our institutions; do it right, pick up the pieces and get ready for the next fight in constant struggle.
Perhaps most critically, some understanding of the actual balance of forces and the actual state of political play in the real world, beyond the media / corporate shadows and lies, makes more effective action possible, sharpening and biting with the teeth of effective strategy in direct actions. At this insane time of alt civil war in the forms of mass shootings and related firearms industry QAmok consumer behaviors, the racist imperial rot beneath Donald Rump’s surface incoherence, and the corrupt collapse of our civilization from racial capital’s climate catastrophe, we continue our struggles for liberation.
The great Peoples historian Peter Linebaugh’s recent May Day 2022 offering bridges gaps between generations, races, others & our relations:
“The settler, white, war-making, patriarchal ruling class is not content to take the land, extirpate the culture, exterminate the people, and in so doing create propertyless, homeless, expendable proletarians. If the division between the water protectors and the workers, between white skins and those whose skin is the color of the earth, is to be preserved as a means of capitalist governance, it must erase the memory too of our struggles.”
Remember. Resist. Occupy. Transform. Create. Survive. Strategize to win, learn from defeat and affirm the new dawn with light from lessons taught by powerful untold stories.