The North Star website was named after the newspaper that Frederick Douglass published from December 1849 to June 1851 in the belief that the American Left must adopt the symbols, language and traditions of our national experience rather than those of another time and another place. Frederick Douglass, Eugene V. Debs, Emma Goldman and Malcolm X—these are the people who lived and fought in the belly of the beast and who should inspire us.
For too long the Left has drawn upon the iconography of the Russian Revolution, including the hammer and sickle that was meaningful to the people who fought against Czarist oppression. It is also necessary for us to stop idealizing V.I. Lenin as if his writings can be mechanically applied to our own experience. Likewise we must avoid treating other such figures as if they had some special insights into the challenges we face, including Mao Zedong or Fidel Castro who fought guerrilla wars based on the peasantry. If we are to succeed in developing the leadership so urgently needed in our own struggle for a new and more just society, it will only be through the process of overcoming the obstacles that the American one percent puts in our path. We are in a highly advanced industrialized system and we have to employ means that are appropriate to our environment, especially the Internet.
Being engaged with American realities means taking an open-minded approach to connecting with humanity. The only people the Left typically engages with are activist circles. What if we reached beyond that? How do we interact with social spaces like cafés, sidewalks, bars, nightclubs, our neighborhoods, our schools, our workplaces? Who should we be connecting with? What role does social media and the Internet play in real, serious organizing? What are the social dynamics of organizations, and how do they influence its endurance? Instead of lowering our hopes to thinking only the typical activists will sympathize with what we do, we should realize that every aspect of our lives is politically relevant because it is made of capitalist fabric that is now ripping apart under the impact of a prolonged economic crisis.
We must creatively engage the really-existing social terrain, and dare to imagine ourselves leafleting the theaters on the opening night of the next Hunger Games. As hostility toward capitalism rises, we should evolve beyond the small group mentality of recruiting one person at a time. We should instead aspire to repeat Occupy’s feat of engaging masses of people who have become so alienated by a two-party system under whose rule they face continuing insecurity and a declining standard of living.
How do fighting mass movements get launched, what forces and preparations are involved? The world’s various opinion polls, crises, and electoral developments show that the time for a Party is now, and more clearly now than ever. We should talk seriously about how to start a Party in the genuine mass sense, and how to sustain it. Now more than ever we can see alternatives to the traditional Left with its mechanical application of the Russian Bolshevik model, such as Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain. What are the possibilities for an American Party that can achieve their popular support without losing sight of the ultimate goal—the economic and social transformation of the United States?
In its early stages the North Star offered polemical critiques of the established organizations of the US Left but now sees the need to turn towards the task of defining new ways for moving forward. This means engaging with new forms of organization that have emerged out of the Occupy movement and initiatives around electoral politics, such as the Kshama Sawant and Howie Hawkins campaigns. What possibilities exist for a new Left that respects the democratic rights of the rank and file member but that can also act in unity against an increasingly repressive state? What rules, standards, mechanisms, or cultural practices would be required for a group to be truly democratic? What would you do differently? What would you keep? Critiquing negative examples must give way to a brainstorming session of democratic innovations. The North Star will happily continue to host wide-ranging discussion, debate, and brainstorming on Left strategy and organization.
Just as was the case with Frederick Douglass’s original North Star, we are in a preparatory period. It would take a full decade for the class forces that made the abolition of slavery possible. Different parties emerged that raised the idea of freedom but it was only when the Republican Party, and especially its radical wing, took power that the oppressive system could be defeated.
The abolition of wage slavery is the primary task facing humanity today. It not only would make possible the right of working people to a free and economically secure existence; it would also help to preserve much of nature now in danger of a Sixth Extinction. The stakes of such an outcome are very high and we at North Star offer ourselves as modest participants in a struggle that will eventually require the immense majority of Americans to make possible.
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