Another May Day

by Mark Lause on May 1, 2018

I haven’t decided yet whether to accept the invitation by text message to participate in the local May Day activities. I have been to so many depressingly small affairs . . . “small but spirited,” as they used to say in the Socialist Workers Party whenever that organization sponsored something that flopped colossally. They usually end with a closed circle of believers in which whatever militancy present is safely channeled into “witnessing” to each other as to their faith.

I envy those who are heading to mass demonstrations.

May Day is traditionally a time to review briefly the state of the socialist movement around the world, particularly in the traditional heartlands of “the West,” and to look back on the long history of the workingclass movement around the world with particularly attention to our long lists of our honored martyrs.

In the U.S., traditional parties of the Left have not had mass influence for some time. The Socialists were defrauded, outlawed, libeled and actively repressed. The Communist party poisoned itself almost from its origins and spent most of its life in an isolation ward, but were also periodically outlawed, always libeled and episodically even more severely repressed.

Smaller currents didn’t fare as well.

Some fell prey to snake oil salesmen promising quick cures for the incurable. Or of people more concerned about being the big fish in a small pond, to which end they would strive assiduously to keep the organization manageably small. Or they simply sunk into a kind of mad world of hallucinated realities.

None of this saved them from sharing in the sad history of marginalization and repression.

It would miss the point entirely to see this as anything other than a bipartisan policy. From Woodrow Wilson on, the self-styled “progressive” or “liberal” Democrats have been as rabidly authoritarian as the most conservative Republicans . . . more so, at times. Just consider the record of Barrack Obama in prosecuting whistle-blowers, excluding advocates of socialized medicine, or administering record levels of deportations.

The paradox is that there are so considerable numbers of well-intentioned people involved in these organizations with many more striving to build up movements for serious and fundamental change in the society, and even greater numbers who would be involved based on their aspirations and values. In 2000, several million voters cast ballots for Ralph Nader . . . and the legions who have since become old enough to vote and proportionately much more disaffected, especially those who’ve come of age in the wake of the 2008 crisis. Depending on which surveys you consult, there is an understandable skepticism about capitalism.

The marginalization and repression of American radicalism is certainly a tragedy on all levels for those targeted, but it has effectively silenced and excluded the voices of much of the American people.

Notwithstanding having a Bill of Rights on paper, the inabilities of those millions to engage with each other politically has effectively nobbled the practice of democracy. Mass politics has become mere civic consumerism.

So capitalist politics created a massive constituency with real grievances, excluded radical alternatives from the discussion of those grievances, and, for that matter, managed to muffle any kind of discussion the powers-that-be cannot manage and control..

This—and not any real shift in public opinion—has moved American politics continually rightward politically. To the point where “Obamacare”—the most “liberal” achievement of the most “liberal” president since the 1960s is essentially the promulgation of a insurance lobbyist organization’s interpretation of Richard M. Nixon’s proposal.

Worse, the capitalist management of those mass grievances produces several marked features. First, the unregulated profit-driven media corporations have remade “news” into what one critic rightly called “public affairs entertainment programming.” This structure will happily host any political discussions, so the citizens don’t have to . . . freeing them to vent online or screech in frustration against a dead wall.

Second, the politics has fragmented those grievances and pit them against each other.

Finally, it has given rise to what the historically illiterate punditry has called “populism.” The entire dynamic of American politics, as it has unfolded over the past half century, created a situation that led naturally to the presidency of Donald J. Trump.

There will be no relief for anyone within the political structures that shaped themselves to do that.

Moreover, when we look abroad to the traditional western centers of political socialism, we see the impact of efforts to apply that U.S. model there. Communism and Socailism have both disintegrated, even where once it represented mass parties, and anarchism has become, if possible, even more inward-looking and self-preoccupied. Media has also done its best to strangle and marginalizing a promising leftward trend in the British Labour Party.

My point is that there is vastly more at stake than May Day lectures on the need to abolish surplus value. Nobody should ever measure their ambition by being able to spend twenty years building a group of six to eight people into a group of six to eight people.

We need fewer “leaders” and more leadership teams. We need less concern about building organizations and more about building movements . . . with confidence that their success will give rise to appropriate organizations.

And it should start wherever you are. Right now.

We can–and MUST–ultimately prevail.

Happy May Day!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Larry Cartier Center May 1, 2018 at 9:51 am

March proudly to the drum of Joe Hill, Mother Jones, Bill Heywood and the fallen workers struggling for justice and sing Woody Guthrie’s UNION MAID.

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Reza May 2, 2018 at 9:22 pm

Maybe … and I hope this is the case … but maybe with Trump cabinet’s egregiously drunk-with-power and in-your-face displays of unfettered and unbound greed and malice on full and unashamed display, maybe, just maybe the youth of the country (as exemplified by Parkland high school students), are waking up to the miserable smell of the reality that former generations have left them with.

And maybe the youth on a mass scale will recognize that the rot on full display at the top echelons of state power is indicative of the deep rot at the foundation of the system.

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