June 2017Policy

Hegemony How-To -- Smucker's road map has utility

For a recent socialist book group meeting we read Hegemony How-To by Jonathan M. Smucker (AK Press 2017). It was not a strictly socialist book, but it did provide an interesting perspective on how to build a broad-based movement, which we must do.

Smucker begins by first describing how he became a radical and how insular radicalism can become. His experience was facilitated through religious based organizations, including the DC Catholic Worker House. After building his skill set, he ended up as part of Occupy Wall Street and was instrumental in getting the message out. His stories are quite interesting, recalling how Occupy both failed and succeeded (in spreading the 99% vs. 1% meme in particular). He leaves out the later accomplishments of some of the Occupy work groups, especially the one that  generated a large volume of comments to the new Consumer Financial Regulatory Board. He shows why well-formulated demands are key, probably more key than any action, and what happens when you don't have them.

One of his major concerns is how insularity of radical groups creates a need to witness, often to get arrested in civil disobedience, or to extend to property damage, and how that turns off a larger audience. He spends a lot of time on the organizational culture of movements. Indeed, this could be a case study of risk management in movement organizations using the Cultural Theory of Mary Douglas and Aaron Wildavsky. He captures egalitarianism as a way of life in the movement well, as well as the despotism and libertarianism that are counterpart ways of life of the right-wing. He also identifies the need for fashion in rebellion (meaning we need to sell more t-shirts).

His mention of elections as an organizing tool is spot on. Both the Bernie Sanders campaign and the resistance to Donald Trump show how this can be a unifying factor.

Smucker argues for more inclusion in radical movements and the making of alliances, even if allies don't buy into 100% of the program. Whether one is insular or allied is the difference between wide success and self-justification/isolation.

The civil rights movement is an example of large scale federations. I have a few examples to share. Sometimes movements can be captured by public officials. Stand Up for Democracy in Washington DC was created to do a march in September 1998 to protest the federally-imposed Control Board taking over direct government from the Mayor. There were a few movements evolving on their own and the local congresswoman, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, created a united front. After the march, it kept going and she and her staff became upset when we started making demands of her. This led to the creation by Delegate Norton of DC Vote! and its cramped agenda for voting rights. Stand Up! still exists and has a list of demands, with Free DC's Budget being the signature one. A few of them have been met and the new Mayor's drive to statehood is a good sign.

An older civil rights victory was when the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party got two of its delegates seated at the 1968 convention in Chicago (which was overshadowed by the protests). They won the battle and lost the war, as the white segregationists in the party fled to the Republicans. Not sure that this is a long-term defeat, however; good riddance to the racists. Some coalitions die and deserve to, like the old Democratic/Dixiecrat one.

The next frontier in large scale organizing, according to Smucker, is to build a coalition around class issues using the tools of this book to build a political movement (Bernie would say a political revolution).

I say we need to look for an economic route to an economic problem. We must Occupy Capitalism. This coalition must go beyond political organizing to and form an economic coalition, like the capitalists do.

There are currently present limits to socialism that we must breach politically. We can unite the coalition of newly socialist organizations and movements to replace the Taft-Hartley Act, which constrains union formation. We should also push to amend the ERISA law that enables employee ownership so that it allows more concentrated ownership of the means of production by workers collectively. We can add sympathetic voices from inside the left and even some from outside the left. The hardest thing, of course, is to get people to notice that there is another way. Once they know, they will join us on the journey. Let's invite them. Smucker shows us how.

 

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