cj#991> dialog re: radical mass movement


Richard Moore

Date: Sat, 02 Oct 1999 20:10:16 -0400
To: •••@••.•••
From: "David Langille, Centre for Social Justice" <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Re: cj#990> why a 'non socialist' thinks we need a radical
  mass movement...

Dear cj,

This last debate caught my attention...

While I applaud the emphasis that you put on politics and the need for a
mass movement in order to change our economic order, I'm sure that you're
well aware that you are not the first to come to these (still radical)
conclusions.  These ideas are popular with those schooled in socialist
political economy.

That's how I've learned the importance of ownership, an issue which you
dodged when Bill Blum brought it up. The capitalists have been successful
at translating their economic resources into political power.  We democrats
have to mobilize ourselves into mass movements.  But how will we sustain

We need to put an economic base under our social movements so as to lessen
our dependence on the transnational corporations.  In other words, we need
to begin implementing some reforms that will help people meet their basic
needs so as to offset the growing insecurity that we all face.

I get a bit leery when I hear you call for "an all-out frontal assault" on
our system. As you quite rightly go on to note, "Our semi-democratic
political institutions have not yet been entirely abandoned, and we still
have the right as free peoples to decide we want a clean-sweep of our
politicians and governments."  The greatest danger is that we sweep out the
democratic processes that previous progressive movements have worked so
hard to achieve. A related danger is that we suffer an economic collapse
that prompts a call for authoritarian solutions.

How can we avoid provoking an authoritarian backlash or a collapse into
fascism? How can we achieve revolutionary changes in a strategic
(incremental) way, that allows time for people to develop their democratic
capacities, and allows space for experimentation.

You perform an invaluable service when you question the feasibility of so
many of the reform ideas thrown your way. Many of our activists are
grasping at straws, and end up disillusioned or burned out.

But I'm not sure that "we've reached a point of diminishing returns with
reform ideas."  As you yourself note, we need "comprehensive rejuvination
programs, not piecemeal reforms.  The question isn't how to curb
corporations, for example, but how best to reallocate the resources and
technologies that they currently control."

You are talking about a transition strategy, not an insurrection. We need
reforms that take capital away from the capitalists, and that strengthen
our democratic capacities.

The revolution that we seek has been evolving and gathering steam over many
decades, if not centuries. It has suffered setbacks -- fascism in the
fourties, globalization today. But the struggle continues in incremental

We need to learn from history while we develop blueprints for the future.
The best way to cope with our diversity, our human weaknesses, and our
limited knowledge is to encourage a plurality of voices and try various

I applaud you for your contribution.

And I feel proud to be a socialist -- committed to democracy, social
justice, and the well being of people in their communities.

David Langille


Dear David,

Thanks for your contribution.  I agree with most of what you're saying.  I
feel a need to respond, not to disagree with you, but to clarify my own
position.  I hope as a result we'll find ourselves in closer agreement.

Indeed I am not proposing an insurrection.  I believe the establishment is
far too skilled in suppressing insurrections, and I believe the path of
legal political action offers far more hope of success.  Besides, I agree
fully with your point that we don't want to throw away the democratic
institutions that it took humanity so many centuries to develop.  We should
certainly make incremental improvements in our political systems, not start

The scenario I envision is a majority mass movement, bigger even than the
movements of the sixties, a movement that brings together activists from
labor, civil-rights, anti-war, environmental, civil-liberties, and even
those on the right who prefer national sovereignty to rule by a global
government.  In the very act of coming together, considerable
mutual-education would occur.  Most important, we need to realize that we
are not each other's enemies.  (Left vs. Right is an illusion).  Once again
I'll use my favorite quote from Carolyn Chute, Secretary of the '2nd Maine

        There's no right and left, there's only up and down.   Up there
        are the fat cats having a great time, while down here the rest of
        us are struggling to survive.

One of the key points in my previous essay was the concept of 'shared
understanding'.  In the sixties, we had a 'shared understanding' that the
Vietnam war was an imperialist war, that it was justified by lies, and
promoted by the military-industrial establishemnt.  There was also a
'shared outrage' and a shared belief that we could band together and force
poltical change.

I'm not quite sure how this shared understanding developed - we didn't have
television broadcasts with 'our' commentators discussing these issues.  We
had rallies, speakers, universtity teach-ins, support from independent
radio stations, and popular 'folk' songs which often seemed to sum-up what
was in our minds, and give us a shared vocabulary.

In today's context, we would need to develop similar non-media ways of
spreading discussion and building a shared understanding.  For that to
work, each of us, from our different perspectives, must be ready to listen
as well as to talk.  We all really can learn from one another.

Continuing with the scenario... We have a majority mass-movement, crossing
the boundaries of existing movements, and one that has developed a shared
understanding of 'the problem' and 'the solution'.  The next step in this
scenario, as I see it, is for the movement to come up with a slate of
candidates, dedicated to the movement's platform, and for that slate to be
swept into power through elections at all levels of government.

This sounds something like a 'third party' approach, but it's really
something else entirely.  Rather than a third party which competes with the
other parties, I'm talking about a movement which totally eclipses the
competitive-party system.  The democratic mechanism, instead of being
power-brokering among parties, becomes the platform-generation process of
the movement itself.  The interesting question then becomes how we
guarantee that this platform-generation process be a democratic one.  I'm
convinced this is possible - indeed I believe this is how 'genuine
democracy' can best operate.   We can discuss this further if there is

The movement's platform would presumably include things like:
        - radical tax reform
        - radical election reform
        - radical regulation reform
        - immediate controls on capital flows
        - freezing of foreign arms sales pending policy reviews
        - semi-receivership of TNC's pending establishment of new
          economic policies
        - international consultations regarding shift in policies re:
                - free trade
                - interventionism
                - international finance and regulation
                - investment policies
                - de-imperialization
                - environment & sustainability

Obviously, what would be required here is the kind of intense re-organizing
effort that characterized FDR's first administration - the famous hundred
days, and the famous pool of high-powered talent.  But while FDR's mission
was to save capitalism - to co-opt grass-roots democratic efforts - a
primary mission of this new government would be to dismantle capitalism...
from its hegemony over politics and economics.

In this scenario, I don't see any need to "put an economic base under our
social movements".  I'm talking about a _majority movement, where most of
the people involved have regular jobs.  The instrument of our "economic
base", as I see it, is the government itself - under the control of our
enlightened slate of candidates, our own high-powered talent pool.  This is
what I mean by a 'frontal assault.  I don't imagine socialists would have
much disagreement with this scenario, but there are many people who could
support the scenario who could not be recruted under a socialist banner.

in clarification,

From: "Marc Bombois" <•••@••.•••>
To: "rkm" <•••@••.•••>
Subject: overcoming the fortress
Date: Sat, 2 Oct 1999 21:37:05 -0700

Hi Richard, excellent posting, I agree with you. Nothing less than a
complete overhaul of the system is needed and that will only be achieved by
a popular mass movement. I believe that movement has already begun, at
least here in Canada, and it is aided by the fact that the actions of the
corporatists have become so odious. I agree that any movement should avoid
labels like socialist or radical or whatever. I would prefer something like
"people who care about people", anything that avoids the old stereotypes.  

Here in Canada, in recognition of the situation as you have stated it, our
plan is to topple the government. Fortunately, we have a vehicle for this
in the form of a federally registered political party, the Canadian Action
Party, led by Paul Hellyer, one of Canada's elder statesmen. He says, "Only
an about turn will save the world and save Canada...Only an about turn will
save us from catastrophe...before those investment clauses are entrenched
in the WTO and before the Free Trade Agreement for the Americas is signed.
I want to know if we are ready to start our own revolution and our own war
for independence. It's not a case of having enough people to start a party
in the traditional sense. It's a case of having a vehicle to facilitate a
revolution. And revolutions are spontaneous events. They develop with
lightning speed." Mr. Hellyer is well aware of the need for banking reform
and for government to control the money supply. However, he says it's not
possible to inform the masses about monetary reform, it's an appeal to the
head. We have to appeal to their hearts, and in Canada that appeal is the
national issue, i.e. do we want to become Americans?  

Richard, perhaps this is the seed that needs to be planted, that
"globalization means the end of your country as a sovereign entity", or
some words to that effect that will stir people out of their complacency.
The end of freedom. The end of hope. We should ask people if they enjoy
sidestepping the poor on their way to the grocery store. If they care about

Let's discuss and brainstorm, and let us be inspired. And let's be quick
about it.  

To a better world.   Marc Bombois



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