Letter To Literacy For All February 2004

Those with good memories, and obscure interests, may remember a piece I posted relating to what I think people should be doing in this period, related to the self alienating process of voting for one evil Skull and Bones Millionaire over a worse evil Skull and Bones Millionaire. While I have no crystal ball, and campaigns can get strange (as the growing attacks from ruling class papers like the NY Times on Bush, coming close to calling him a nutty religious fanatic) might show, it looks like Kerry vs Bush.

So, here is a link on Kerry on teacher tenure. http//static.elibrary.com/t/thenewrepublic/december141998/johnkerrytakesontheteachersunionsschoolyardtussle/

Howard Dean has done a nice job demonstrating Kerry's devotion to monied interests. I won't expand on what is now obvious. At base, when each points to the other and says, "Scum," it may be the only time that none of them are lying.

Here is a link to America's greatest historian, W.E.B. Dubois, on voting....http//www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/45a/298.html

I had hoped that others would step into this discussion and offer differing positions on what to do in regard the elections and the social crisis in the schools, and in communities. So, I waited awhile. Only a little popped up, so I continue.

Gerry Coles, whose careful analytical skills I admire, wrote a criticism of my initial piece in which, I believe, he misread some of the things I had to say. For example, Gerry suggested that I think the worse thing get for people, the better it is for people who want social change. I have never said that, and don't believe it. Good times can produce social change, and so can bad times. The worse things get, the worse they get, and resistance depends on concrete conditions, organizing, education, etc. In this country, I think for the near future, the worse things get, the more Americans will find fascism to be popular--but so will many people be positioned to have no option but fight back.

Gerry then criticized my urging to organize for control of workplaces and communities, for direct united action ( and now I add open calls to overcome capitalism) as characteristic of a tendency within the Communist International which, I believe, he thinks typifies sectarian behavior. Those interested in the historical base of this might want to search Seventh World Congress of the Comintern on google. The issue facing people then, in the mid thirties, was this : fascism or socialism, to paraphrase Rosa Luxembourg (or Istvan Meszaros today).

At this fascinating meeting of the Comintern (really the only people who grasped fascism in any sophisticated way at the time) there was a sharp debate about what fascism is, and what to do. One line said, "Fascism is the result of bad people within the ruling class seizing power, and therefore the thing we must do is ally with the good people in the ruling class." The opposing line said "Fascism is a logical and necessary result of the processes of capitalism, as it heads into decay. The only way to defeat fascism is to overcome capitalism." The first position was articulated by Bulgarian G. Dimitroff. His book, United Front Against Fascism, is still available and while I have simplified what he said, that is essentially it, and the proof of that is in the pudding...what was done later.

The latter position, against capitalism itself, toward socialism, was put forward by R. Palme Dutt, a Brit, in a book called Fascism and Social Revolution. Dutt's position actually articulated the main (but not only) tendency within the Comintern up to the time of the meeting.

At that meeting, Stalin sided with Dimitroff-called for alliances with good capitalists against bad capitalists. The Comintern changed its position, and began to build alliances with local ruling classes around the world. In the US, the CPUSA stopped calling Roosevelt a social fascist, and started calling him an ally. The same was true all over the world, except in China where Mao followed his usual practice of telling Stalin he was a genius, and ignoring him as much as possible.

What happened to the USSR, and the world socialist movement, has a lot to do (but surely not only to do) with the decisions that were made in that meeting. The Soviets had already begun to become what they claimed to set out to oppose by the mid thirties, but their alliances with good capitalists threw their retreat from equality and democracy into speed.

That aside, this is not the thirties, there is no USSR, and the situation in the US, described by Chalmers Johnson as a 'fascist state" may be a little like what the people in the Comintern faced, it is also very different. Capitalism won, and this is what is offered to people under its international rule: mass unemployment, perpetual war, meaningless jobs, segregation, sexism, rising irrationalism and ignorance. This is the context that sets up the exams we complain about. Democrats and Republicans, nothing but tribunes of the rich, set this up together--and we all know that.

It is difficult to have probing, problem posing, and mutually supportive discussions on email lists, as the many brief posts, letters to the editor, cut and paste articles, book announcements, etc, on this list, demonstrate. Maybe that is one reason people still write books. However, people on other lists do have probing discussions, and sometimes we do too. I will try to make a very hard and complex topic quicker and easier. But understand that this is shorthand.

Now, do I think Dutt was right? No, I don't. Dutt was a socialist, and socialism (never having gotten much beyond nationalizing the working class) failed, and we should learn from that.

Do I think that since Gerry is urging us to vote for whatever Democrat pops up, that he is thus following Stalin, who agreed with Dimitroff and urged alliance with local bosses, in the US get out the vote campaigns, etc? No. Surely not. Gerry's work goes well beyond that, and I know it. His analytical work on the N.R P. alone says he does more than just go vote.

But who does voting for Kerry (and spending so much time and money on this, after many on the list did the same for Dean) ally us with? The bosses of the criminal AFT-CIA and the "bring on the standards and tests but fund it" NEA. The criminal leadership of AFSCME. The gangster dominated Teamster's union. For educators, what are people learning about what it is to be free from that? What are they learning about the nature of a system that is now victorious, capitalism, and that can only offer people lousy jobs at low pay, and perpetual war? Just how is it that creating breathing space (perhaps for Kerry and some in the middle class, but surely not for the most oppressed people in the US) will make anyone with any reason to struggle for justice more powerful?

I said in my earlier piece, I support anyone now organizing in rank and file ways for social change, ranging from the Rethinking Schools folks, to Fairtest, to Caresisters, and on---some of whom will vote and some will not. I admire people who are not passive. I don't vote in presidential elections and never have. I do, sometimes, vote in local school board elections, on bond issues, etc. There is a small logic to that, but I don't think it is an especially big deal either way. The issue is what one does besides voting, since voting can never really alter the master/slave relationships of capitalism. You do not get chances to vote at work, unless you are being asked to participate to construct ways to hurt yourself.

However, masses of school workers, led by the AFT and NEA's top racketeering leadership, guided by their notions of business unionism (the unity of business, government, and unions in the national interest, i.e., corporate state unionism) are about to pour several million dollars, and countless volunteer hours, into the Kerry (whoever) campaign. Why would people interested in genuine literacy join them, the same people who demanded the tests, the standards, and wrote them---sitting right next to the Business Roundtable, the US Chambers of Commerce, etc?

What can we do otherwise? We can do issue based organizing in schools and communities, with the open purpose of both winning reforms (boycott the tests) and overcoming capitalism. School worker power is not at the voting machine (the average congressboss gets a minimum of 3 million in reported cash from lobbyists every year---are you going to out- vote that?) but in our ability to control our workplaces, and communities, in conjunction with parents, students, and community people---especially the people who need us (and who we need) most---poor and working people----who will not win any breathing space at all by electing Kerry (Clinton did Nafta, destroyed the welfare system, etc).

We can take actions like refusing the California grocery strike to be lost, sold out by its leadership, taking students to the picket lines, calling for direct action in the stores, demonstrating that obeying the law today means offering your hands for the cuffs.

We can support community rebellions, as has happened recently in Benton Harbor, Cincinnati, etc., and where possible set up freedom schools, examining the sources of oppression, within those resistance movements. These rebellions are going to happen because people are now positioned so that they MUST fight back , not because they especially want to (who would have predicted that grocery clerks would lead the most significant labor struggle of the last decade?)

We can say that we must get beyond capitalism. That is so obvious that it takes nearly nothing to grasp it. It does not put people off. I have said it for a decade, from Detroit to San Diego, and only the police and a few Nazis have objected. I said it to a group of five hundred people in Kearney Nebraska (and I was admittedly scared to do it) and about 4/5 of them stood up and cheered.

Gerry closed with saying that most people on this list would not support my position, and would go vote. That closing did not seem to be an offer to deepen a discussion, but to end it. That is not how things will work. Voting will do nothing to stave off the upcoming grocery strike in Northern California (where the union members are being urged to Kerry, but not even told about the Southern Cal strike by their union bosses).

Once George or John is elected, and the NCLB goes forward full blast, funded or no, just as the US troops seize the Iraq oil fields and give hardly a whit about what kind of government Iraqis have, just what will be the next move?

best, r
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