January 2, 2012

Winning, by Eric Patton

One of the most inspiring pieces I've ever read is the following essay by Eric Patton, originally posted in 2005 on the ZNet website but unfortunately is evidently no longer available there. I was able to recover a copy and make it available here; it deserves a wide audience.

Sometimes, lefties wonder why regular folks don't "do more" or "care more" or are not more politically involved than they actually are. The question is fair. So, what's the answer, and where does the logic behind the answer ultimately lead? It may surprise you. The answer is actually a quite hopeful and empowering one.

Deep down, people feel like you can't do anything about it. So, what's the point of getting upset? If people felt like they could do something about it, it would change very quickly. For example, look at what's going on at Northwest Airlines. The mechanics' union is on strike. The machinists' union is crossing the mechanics' union's picket line and doing some of the mechanics' work.

Let me repeat that. The mechanics' union is on strike. The machinists' union is crossing the mechanics' union's picket line and doing some of the mechanics' work.

That where we currently are. If you punch a time clock, what are your options? Man, your job already sucks. You may as well make the best of it, because it ain't changing anytime soon. Moveon.org can't be bothered to call for Troops Home Now. United for Peace and Justice is happy the antiwar movement has a "second wind", according to leader Medea Benjamin, even though the left has had very little to do with it. So they cover up their mistakes by cozying up to Cindy Sheehan (which is the right thing to do, of course) but they're doing it for the wrong reason.

If we, the left in the United States, were serious about it, we could completely overhaul society within a decade. That's absolutely true. But the left is not yet serious about it. Parts of it are, but those parts are still very small. When it does gets around to changing, though, it will happen with breathtaking speed.

Why do I say that? You must think about what would be necessary for any real change to occur. From an organizational standpoint, the left has a fatal problem: it's classist. Working people are not stupid. They know. Maybe not consciously, but they know nonetheless.

Suppose now that United for Peace and Justice decided to reorganize itself around principles of self-management, balanced job complexes, and remuneration according to effort and sacrifice as opposed to power and output -- the program advocated of participatory economics. Then what?

At that point, enormous and immediate pressure would be brought on the rest of the left to follow suit. Grunts in myriad left organizations would begin demanding their own rights that is, in this hypothetical United for Peace and Justice.

Remember why we, the United States, invaded South Vietnam? Remember why we overthrew Allende in Chile? Or the democratically elected Sandinsta government in Nicaragua? How about "our" (meaning "U.S. elites'") longstanding violence and hatred toward Cuba? Or our current festering rage at Hugo Chavez in Venezuela?

The real threat is always that of a good example. South End Press, Arbeiter Ring Publishing, Mondragon Cafe, The NewStandard -- these organizations may all be organized around a participatory model but they are also all small, and thus easily ignored by the broad United States left, which is not eager to incorporate their participatory economic organizational principles into what they do.

But if a large outfit like United for Peace and Justice, with its one-million-dollar per-year budget, forswore the Dark Side of the Force, going participatory instead, you would suddenly have an example too large to ignore. People all over the left would know about it. They would begin thinking about it, they would start asking uncomfortable questions about it, and very quickly they would begin demanding it -- unions, civil rights groups, feminist groups, environmental groups -- you name it. Dominoes would begin to fall very quickly.

Suddenly, you'd have a participatory left, emanating real pressure on the society at large. And just as suddenly, there would be, from the elite standpoint, ungodly pressure brought to bear to do something, anything, to make the problem go away. Troops home now, single payer health care, out of Haiti, seriousness about addressing global warming, out of Palestine, a move away from the oil economy, media images of women, public transportation, a less racist legal system, more honest media coverage. Name it. What would you like to change in society today?

The power levels possessed by such a left would be immense. Suddenly, we'd be the ones setting the tone, dictating tempo, calling the shots, playing offense, writing the rules. Elites would be on the defensive, running terrified, looking for anything and everything to kill the monster, to make the movement stop.

As long as we did our jobs properly, the movement would never stop. We'd just keep winning and winning and winning.

Would it really be that easy? No. Because the hard part is getting United for Peace and Justice to organize around participatory principles. But once you do that, the hard part is done. Everything else becomes gravy.

In ten years, capitalism would be dead, and we'd have made unbelievable enormous headway into dealing with sexism, racism, heterosexism, ageism, you name it. It's the absolute truth.

The sun rises in the east. The sky is blue. Two plus two equals four. And capitalism can be killed in ten years.

But the clock won't start until we start organizing ourselves and our major institutions properly. It's really that simple.