Radical Activist Interview: Max S Morgan

by Sophia Burns on August 17, 2016

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Max S Morgan is the chair of the Communist Labor Party and an organizer for the CLP’s Harry Bridges Chapter in Tacoma, WA. In the first of what will be a series of interviews with on-the-ground radical activists, he agreed to talk with The North Star about his group’s unusual approach to revolutionary work.

 

The North Star: Describe for us the work you’re doing.

Max Morgan: Right now, the Harry Bridges Chapter is facilitating a Serve the People program; we’re adopting Black Panther Party for Self Defense survival programs. We’re having a fun problem: our immediate-term goal is to bring the community into the operation, administration, and management/decision-making process of these programs–but everyone we bring in, even people who were total strangers before meeting us through the program, keeps joining the party!
I say facilitating, not organizing or running, because our end goal is to create self-sustaining programs that are not dependent on the party and would continue on without us. Which is not to say we won’t continue fostering the development and expansion, day to day operations, of these programs and projects–simply that the goal is to have an independent organization. I may expand on the rationale later.

 

TNS: What led you to work on directly providing social services?

MM: Our party’s Program (capital P big plan™) calls for the development of dual power, which in this case takes the forms of institutions (economic and political) that create or channel class power for proletarian communities. In this case it’s economic power, in the form of food security and, eventually, housing security initiatives.

 

TNS: How does this approach compare with other organizing techniques you’ve tried?

MM: Compared to the traditional socialist “organizing methods” of attending other peoples’ events to push papers, organizing book clubs for academics to discuss esoteric theory, and generally putting around poo-pooing the imperfect practices of others while we explore our inner selves with our thumbs? No equitable comparison can be made.

TNS: How is this any different from charity? What distinguishes your work from that of the nonprofit-industrial complex?

MM: The point is not to “provide services,” but to create structures of self-sufficiency at a community and collective level. Resilient communities weather economic hardship, resist displacement, and foster day-to-day economic security that enables proletarian people to engage in political work they would have to ignore while struggling to survive.

The basic modality of these programs is not charity, but solidarity–the idea is that this food, these resources, belong to the people already. We’re just helping facilitate the distribution.
TNS: Shouldn’t the Left focus on getting the state to provide services like this for the public? Isn’t this a concession to neoliberal austerity?

MM: Yes and no–the social services provided by the bourgeois state are crafted, quite ingeniously (respect your enemies or you will underestimate them and be destroyed), to perpetuate survival without fostering success. Food stamps take the edge off of extreme poverty. Housing assistance (at least in this state) takes the form of subsidized rent, which merely takes the edge off.

The trap hidden under this lure is that the power to control your economic well-being remains in the hands of people whose interests are hostile to you. These programs, even when they were extremely well funded and extensive (a long, long time ago), never actually lifted anyone out of poverty and into self-sufficient control of their survival.
Our programs carry a second purpose alongside survival: they create bastions and reservoirs of economic power (to produce and secure survival and comforts) and political power (organized communities capable of acting together)–which is the long-term goal of these programs inside the context of a dual power program.
TNS: What are your mid- and long-term goals for the project?

 

MM: Mid-term is to expand the program as much as possible, to provide as much to as many as logistically feasible, and to encourage other groups of activists or communists to do the same in other municipalities.

The long-term goal is to create the economic security necessary for individuals to involve themselves in the dangerous work of resisting capitalism, and the political organization necessary to do it effectively.
TNS: What would you describe as your basic theory of social change? How does this project fit into that?

MM: Class antagonism is central to the development of society. As it stands, the working class, which sells its labor to survive, has little or no political power because of two limitations. The first is economic: if you stop selling your labor, you starve. If you burn down the factory, you are unemployed and may starve. The capitalist mode of production coerces our cooperation very effectively, and no act of will alone can break that coercion unless you are literally suicidal.

The second is organizational. Even if you had economic security to survive your own acts of resistance, it would not stop the machinery by itself. Many people must act in concert not only to abolish capitalism, but also to begin producing commodities and services to meet human needs immediately, on our own terms.
By taking the means of survival, piecemeal, into the hands of working class communities, we divorce ourselves from the dependence on capitalism that prevents us from using our ubiquitous power to stop working to exercise power over the system itself.
TNS: This technique has been associated with other revolutionary groups, most prominently (in the US) the original Black Panther Party. What lessons do you draw from the experiences of others?

 

MM: Mostly practical lessons. The BPPfSD was organizing on a different timeline and principle of revolution, which I do not mean to critique or denigrate by not following their example exactly. We’re just trying something different.

The Panthers broke much of the ground we’re beginning to till–we refer to their works in our planning and execution. This project would not be possible without the work of the Panthers and the Rainbow Coalition (the first one, not the liberals).
TNS: How does this project relate to the question of state power?
MM: As proletarian communities organize to meet their own needs outside the capitalist mode of production, and institutions of proletarian power begin to fill rolls the bourgeois state withdraws from through the progress of austerity, we, “the class in and for itself” (to use a specific Marxist term), are literally building state power in opposition to the bourgeois state. It’s a power growing in duality and opposition to the existing state power, hence “dual power.”
TNS: How does this project relate to other leftist groups/strategies?

MM: It doesn’t, unless there’s someone out there in North America pursuing some kind of Gramscian Autonomism, or the Wobblies got back on a hard-line syndicalist program when I wasn’t looking.

I don’t mean to stroke our majestic egos or anything, but as far as we know, while all the components parts of this program and the ideology it’s build on have seen use and success in North America (often before we were born), this is the first time these ideas have been taken together and worked into a program like this.
We’re tilling old ground, but we’re breaking new ground too. We can use dialectical materialism and the scientific method to make educated guesses and general predictions, but this is new enough that we can’t just look at historical examples to say what will come of it.
It is both exciting and terrifying.
TNS: What are some major problems and/or mistakes that have come up? What are the drawbacks you’ve observed to this approach?

MM: Some of the problems we are keeping an eye out for are things brought up by Lenin as criticisms of Autonomism: that merely seizing small portions of the means of production through “legal means” is not a revolutionary act if it does not propel a revolutionary movement with a political dimension. And he’s right; projects like this one have historically lost their revolutionary character and become charity organizations. We’re keeping a close eye on that and even though our project is barely started, not even a year old, we are already beginning to pivot in a political direction. Which we must also be cautious about, as it invites opportunism and disconnection with the masses if handled without forethought and self-criticism.

So far, we haven’t hit any significant roadblocks or pitfalls. This does not comfort me at all. I am extremely anxious about what mistakes we are making that simply haven’t manifested tangible problems yet, but are festering tomorrow’s disaster just outside our field of vision. This literally keeps me up at night.
TNS: Why should the Left use techniques like this?

 

MM: I cannot in good conscience promise you or anyone else that what we’re doing is going to work, or is even a good idea. I can explain my rationale and the historical events and programs that lead me to believe this is the correct combination and integration of disparate Marxist practices and revolutionary programs. I can explain how the current material conditions in North America call for this sort of power-building over traditional organizing methods. But this is still new and untested.

But you should do it anyway. Or do something, anyway, anything besides what we, the radical left, have been banging away at for a hundred years with nothing to show for it.
TNS: What do you recommend for others who are interested in pursuing similar work?

MM: Read about the Panthers. Read about the Young Patriots. Read about the old Rainbow Coalition. Read about the New Left in Chicago and Los Angeles. Ask questions, talk to your neighbors, go down to a bus stop and ask people what they need and what their life is like right now.

Get your finger on the pulse of the masses where you live. Seek out like-minded people to help you. Do your part as a class-conscious worker to create power and security for our people. Trust that good people will find you when you are doing good work, and don’t ever wait for someone to give you permission to start.
Don’t wait. Start today. Serve the people.
Get in touch with the Communist Labor Party, RATPAC, or the Red Guards in Los Angeles or Austin, depending on your political persuasion (Red Guards are pursuing a strictly Maoist program, not Dual Power as we see it), and ask questions if you need help. We’re always ready to advise and assist our comrades.
TNS: Thank you for taking the time to chat with us.
MM: Thank you for the opportunity to share.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Cameron August 17, 2016 at 12:22 pm

Such interviews are very useful for serious revolutionary workers — keep it going!

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Louis Proyect August 17, 2016 at 1:55 pm

It seems to me that there are affinities between these comrades and the Philly Socialists in terms of revolutionary social services.

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Max August 17, 2016 at 2:03 pm

There are- we’ve talked in the past. Good people.

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Eric Vogt August 18, 2016 at 8:47 am

Excellent, Comrade Max! It would be great to meet you and share ideas. I’m in Seattle. Where are you?

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Isa Cline August 18, 2016 at 10:49 pm

Tacoma. Harry Bridges chapter of the Communist Labor Party.

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Sophia Burns August 20, 2016 at 2:55 am

CLP does have a Seattle chapter, though – http://facebook.com/clpseattle

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Mark Mason August 18, 2016 at 8:07 pm

Fantastic, insightful, inspirational, and empowering work, but has nothing to do with Lenin or the Bosheviks of the last century. This is very old stuff, anarchist direct action, that goes back to the Paris Commune of 1871, and anarcho-syndicalist Spanish Revolution of 1936-9.

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Mara Henao August 19, 2016 at 11:15 am

Max, Do you guys have a facebook page or website where I can read more about the projects you guys are working on? or a place to communicate directly with you all?
I am part of Philly Socialists and I run a branch and I am the treasurer of the Tenants Union locally, I would love to learn about the struggles where you guys are. We also have a yearly retreat where we exchange strategy and information learned through out the years together with a sister organization in Kentucky and whomever else wants to join us, it would be great if some comrades from the Communist Labor Party could attend this year.

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Sophia Burns August 20, 2016 at 2:58 am

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