Crisis and Consciousness: Reflections and Lessons from March 4th

This was originally posted on advancethestruggle.  Thanks to Sebastian for bringing it to our attention. Although mainly focused on the March 4th actions in California, this piece touches on questions of larger significance.  Without endorsing all the positions being expressed, we are posting this because it provides a strategic analysis that merits consideration. "The class struggle is fundamentally about workers challenging the capitalist discipline that schools and workplaces reinforce; such discipline is the means of both keeping the population powerless and expropriating value and profits. The intervention of Marxists is crucial in agitating against this discipline through a pedagogical approach.  Dominant socialist paradigms that do not challenge the root of this capitalist discipline lead activists to become good-willed movement-managers of a new type. This is the folly the centrists commit with their overemphasis on the convening of coalitions, conferences, and general assemblies; their unwillingness to move beyond what is immediately acceptable by “the majority” in the interests of not “alienating” themselves from the movement lines up all too well with conservative aspects of people’s consciousness. Adventurists, in reaction to such conservatism, commit a folly no less detrimental to the class struggle: virtual abstention from the political process of building struggle with working class communities.  Instead, they substitute a purely sensual form of struggle that challenges private property in isolation from the class whose work produces such property to begin with."

Crisis and Consciousness:  Lessons and Reflections from March 4th

Tables of Contents

  1. Introduction to March 4th
  2. October 24th Compromise
  3. City committees
  4. San Francisco: Center Wins Over Left
  5. UC Berkeley vs. UC Santa Cruz: Campus Committees Choose Focus
  6. UC Davis and CSU Fresno: Central Valley Consciousness
  7. Oakland and LA: Class Struggle Left Committees
  8. Seattle: Worker-Student Power
  9. Conclusion
  10. Appendix
    1. Canada Community College
    2. UC Berkeley marches to Oakland
    3. Youth lead in Oakland
    4. CCSF

I. Introduction

.” [emphasis ours] While nominally citing the productiveness of occupation, the final clause about the necessity of the whole movement’s approval is what makes this claim disingenuous.  We’ve written elsewhere about the logic of this approach, which exposes:

 

. . . not only the plans of the occupation, but the occupiers themselves [which may] result in anything from the mere prevention of the action to brutal state repression. Those who insist that every action be approved by an open democratic space are acting against the working class’s interests for, as we observe above, “it is anti-working class to judge an action by its formal democratic process. The rubric must be, instead, the degree to which an action tips the balance of class forces in favor of the oppressed.

The centrist paradigm insists on a neat and safe linear trajectory, wherein struggles organized by professional activists grow and grow and eventually blossom into a militant movement. The formula is clear: build general assemblies, organize small teach-ins and rallies, then days of action, etc. The establishment of coalitional spaces and general assemblies are the key ingredients for developing radical political class-consciousness that eventually lead towards militant direct-action (in the distant future).  While it is true that building organizational forms for people to plug into is incredibly important, this approach towards doing so generally fails to tap into the intuitive militancy that the adventurists are able to relate to through their direct actions.  Instead, the centrists downplay the degree of radical consciousness that already exists within large sections of the working class and argues that if a coalitional space does not approve a proposal then the movement must “not be ready” and that we must “meet people where they’re at.” The recognition that we must  “meet people where they’re at” is crucial for tapping into the latent power and consciousness of working class people.  In our view it involves having a pedagogical method (which we elaborate below) and open, accessible organizational structures geared towards bringing this latent power and consciousness to the fore.  However, the centrists misunderstand “meeting people where they’re at” inasmuch as they reify (that is, treat as static and unchanging) where people’s consciousness “is at”.  The centrists not only meet people where they’re at, they also leave them there. By and large their lack of a revolutionary pedagogy and orientation towards gradualism leads them to lose the opportunity to water the existing seeds of militant consciousness that people do have.  By avoiding the opportunity to facilitate the growth of people’s intuitive militancy in a revolutionary direction, they end up strengthening liberal and narrow tendencies within people’s minds that stem from a lack of exposure to revolutionary ideas and strategies. Conversely, what is important to learn from and respect about the adventurists is that their literature and propaganda attempts to put forward a more total revolutionary vision for insurrection and communism; coupled with this, their actions do more to directly challenge capitalist property relations and bourgeois hegemony.  The problem arises in that this means very little without meeting people where they’re at and building organizational structures in workplaces, schools and communities, so that people may move from being spontaneous participants in flashes of direct action and proceed to become active intellectual participants who understand revolutionary theory and strategy.  The failure to break down capital’s hierarchical division between mental and manual labor also, ironically, ends up often leaving people where they’re at just as much as the Centrists do.  People participate or defend an occupation and have a radicalizing experience, but generally don’t find an outlet by which to reflect on this experience and use it as a basis for developing a revolutionary vision of the world We may seem harsh in our critique of our comrades, but we do so not only out of a revolutionary love but also out of a deep humility.  It’s not easy to synthesize the best of each other’s approaches or even recognize that people we disagree with have assets!  However, it’s necessary to be ruthlessly critical of our differences while remaining open to the possibility of learning from each other if we hope to continue developing the emerging left tendency we have seen the beginnings of. There is one thing that ties all the examples of the left approach on March 4th together: the existence of a radical organizing body with an open perspective that strategically incorporates both as many people as possible into the struggle to challenge school and workplace discipline and domination.  This is not an eclectic “combo” of the adventurist and centrist perspectives but rather a synthesis of the partial truths contained in each trend.  These independent bodies set radical terms in building for March 4th but interacted openly and pedagogically with the mainstream to powerfully channel radical impulses within the contradictory consciousness of certain sectors of the working class, largely the youth. The class struggle is fundamentally about workers challenging the capitalist discipline that schools and workplaces reinforce; such discipline is the means of both keeping the population powerless and expropriating value and profits. The intervention of Marxists is crucial in agitating against this discipline through a pedagogical approach.  Dominant socialist paradigms that do not challenge the root of this capitalist discipline lead activists to become good-willed movement-managers of a new type. This is the folly the centrists commit with their overemphasis on the convening of coalitions, conferences, and general assemblies; their unwillingness to move beyond what is immediately acceptable by “the majority” in the interests of not “alienating” themselves from the movement lines up all too well with conservative aspects of people’s consciousness. Adventurists, in reaction to such conservatism, commit a folly no less detrimental to the class struggle: virtual abstention from the political process of building struggle with working class communities.  Instead, they substitute a purely sensual form of struggle that challenges private property in isolation from the class whose work produces such property to begin with. The conservative passivity grown out of 40 years of capital’s domination has produced a conservative consciousness that seemingly limits the possibilities of struggle. In our era of crisis and budget cuts, and emerging radicalism is cracking through this conservatism and clearly showing the contradictory nature of consciousness. Do we passively accept people’s contradictory consciousness and thereby reinforce the dominant layer of conservatism by proposing what would be acceptable to “the majority”?  Or do we enter into this complex world and attempt to speed up the radicalization of workers and students so that they play their historical role in the overthrow of capital? Organizing along the lines of the latter, and arming ourselves with a skilled pedagogy, is what needs to be done in the coming periods of struggle. If we don’t, it will not only slowdown the movement, it may also lead us to fail in the meeting our objectives and truncate the growth of radical consciousness.  It is possible to for movements to negate their own progress and return back to older stages of conservatism. The future is not written; the outcome is partially in our hands. What we do and how we see this changing world will be key in shaping what we make out of the crisis. March 4th throughout California and abroad gives us clues and lessons of how to advance struggle and understand what a genuine left looks like.  In order to fully understand these lessons we should begin with an understanding of how the date was picked in the first place . . . II. October 24th: The Conference and Compromise March 4th was born when a group of 800 students, teachers and workers seeking a path of struggle met at a conference at UC Berkeley on October 24th to decide the way forward for the budget cut movement.  The conference was largely organized by UCB-based activists, and MC’d largely by Bay Area-based Trotskyists.  It focused the struggle by setting a single day to fight back.  Conference organizers however, limited the depth of focus by mixing two distinct political approaches to one watered down (and contradictory) compromise.  The result?  A decision to not make a decision.  A militant “One day strike/walkout” proposal was merged with the non-confrontational “March on Sacramento” proposal: “Strike and Day of Action that is inclusive of all different tactics, including: walkouts, rallies, march to Sacramento, teach-ins, occupations, and all other forms of protest.”  This concoction revealed a centrist orientation toward consciousness. The centrist assumption was that the compromise achieved the broadest appeal possible, but this specifically disregards any attempt to articulate a strategy for victory. The decision to avoid collective discussion of what should happen on March 4th offers a window into the way the tendencies assess consciousness in the working class and the potential for radical action. This framework represented a lost opportunity to consciously politicize the question of tactics and frame the sense of collective organizing around an overt political goal. Because consciousness is internally contradictory a coherent and politicized framework united around Strike will not necessarily alienate people; instead , this very framework is the type that can give practical unity and fighting capacity to organizers.  As a method of struggle, “freedom of action” failed to articulate a vision and a perspective of concrete struggle against budget cuts. Even though the compromise was built on contradiction and centrism, it did make a major contribution: March 4th was the day. III. City Committees Advance the Struggle in late November ‘09 wrote Occupations Spread through California:

without known militants from any tendency, Left, adventurist or Center.  The coalition organizers, generally new to politics, planned only a “combine the elements” rally at UCD for the day of and expected low attendance.  On the day of, however, the 500 students who assembled all began marching in the direction of the nearby freeway, interstate 80. Marchers broke through two lines of police, resisted baton strikes and pepper balls, and were only deterred when a vocal organizer, Laura Mitchell, was brutally taken hostage by police.  At that point marchers conferred and agreed to turn around to avoid charges for Mitchell.  Collective action, militancy, consensus-based decision making on the spot and solidarity: seems like an experienced Left leadership was there, right?  But an involved organizer said that wasn’t the case; rather, the self-selecting crowd moved and made decisions as a militant unit.  [Here video of UCD conflict with police should definitely be inserted]. UC Davis can be used as a case study in what could have occurred without the significant involvement of any organized Left forces.  In this view, the UCD action is like many of the best spontaneous actions throughout history: militant and taking solidarity as its operating principle. The criticisms circulating at UCD, that the march could have headed toward the freeway in town, and the noticeable lack of political articulation seem to be the two main outcomes of the lack of Left leadership.  But it’s clear that the consciousness of a militant mass wing of the student movement prepared them for confrontational tactics and clear-minded negotiations with police . . . they’re lucky no centrist “vanguards” were present arguing that they weren’t ready for this! In contrast to the adventurist-planned freeway occupation in Oakland, the Davis attempt drew a critical mass directly from the base of UC Davis students.  It was the result of mass decision-making rather than vanguard planning meetings. . The Davis action can be seen as an example of what a genuine Left action can look like.  Left leadership would ride the success of such an action by engaging the rest of the campus, students, workers and professors, in a dialogue about the action.  This relationship between action and reflection, is a key motor in the development of class consciousness. VIII.  Seattle The March 4th movement, which originated in CA, traveled through 33 states and in doing so highlighted the immense potential of the campus struggle, specifically in Seattle. The resistance at University of Washington seems to be much more genuine left than most of what we see in California in the sense that campus groups like Democracy Insurgent has a much more highly developed orientation towards workers on campus and the development of their integration into struggle. This potential is due primarily to the fact that DI did the slow patient work of building real relationships with rank and file workers and connecting with the impulses of militancy and organic networks amongst them.  Seattle’s actions on March 4th are inspiring and require serious study by revolutionaries across the country.  For a very important and thorough analysis of March 4th in Seattle, we urge all readers to study: http://gatheringforces.org/2010/03/11/march-forth-seattle/ IX. Conclusion

 

] - Karl Marx

The essential dimension of what we are referring to as a genuine class struggle left tendency is really not that complex.  It involves direct connections between revolutionaries and cohorts of students and workers seeking to produce and develop worker/student agency at sites of production and positions of institutional discipline. Such agency is necessarily associated with independence from institutions that are politically and ideologically loyal to the bourgeois state. Each instance that we point to as a positive example of the relationship between radicals and workers expresses itself in a different way and to different degrees. Democracy Insurgent in Seattle, radical students and workers in Santa Cruz (including individuals associated with organizations that exhibit centrist tendencies elsewhere), the Oakland & LA March 4th Committees all manifested “genuine class struggle left” tendencies. Through patient work, radicals can co-develop their political consciousness alongside workers and students on a level that can go beyond the immediate struggle of bread and butter issues and bring all social relations into their scope; this type of work moves students and workers towards seeing the urgency for a revolution in all capitalist social structures.  Although there is no evidence that such a thing has developed yet out of any the left cases we identify, it is only through the relationships established by the left tendencies that we could begin forming revolutionary consciousness that penetrates the fabric of oppressed communities. The class struggle left that revealed itself on March 4thinspires us, giving us a lot to reflect on as we turn toward theorizing how to advance the struggle through the intellectual development of the revolutionary working class towards developing its own theory, and facilitating the bridge from contemporary resistance to a total revolution, imagined and managed by the working class itself. 3 outstanding characteristics of the “genuine class struggle left”: 1. Direct relationships with workers on the basis of struggle against capital that the workers themselves recognize the need for and initiate. 2. Independence from institutions incorporated within the state and other instruments of bourgeois hegemony (including the state-like structure of unions and/or their leadership) 3. Facilitation of workers and radicals co-developing total political class-consciousness that supersedes immediate narrow campaigns of single work places. Many leftist organizations might agree with this in the abstract, but two necessary aspects need to be addressed to make it a reality. One is consistent work and the other is pedagogy. Most left groups do not do consistent work in the working class. They might flyer once a season in a working class community, or stay in constant contact with union bureaucrats in order to say that they do that, but neither constitute the long-term groundwork of implanting revolutionary roots within proletarian communities. The second is pedagogy. Paulo Friere correctly argues that we cannot sloganize politics to the working class but rather need to develop a skillful pedagogy where revolutionaries engage in a political dialogue with the working class and master the art of teaching coupled with the art of listening, Many different groups contain aspects of these two necessities but have yet to synthesize them into a dynamic whole. Advance the Struggle seeks to develop this methodology as the complex task that revolutionaries must undertake today. There are no silver bullets or blueprints that will make this development take place. Only through commitment, hard work, theory, organization and pedagogy may we see the realization of this method and process become real.  All of which constituting a necessary step towards the historical transformative process of the overthrow of capitalism: proletarian revolution. [For the Appendix, go here.]

People in this conversation

  • Guest - Radical-Eyes

    This statement reads: "A strike is a politicizing engagement. Neither the occupationists—who view mass consciousness as dry wood waiting only for the right spark—nor the Trotskysists—who reify current mass consciousness and redeploy it via the static formulation: “meet people where they’re at”—understand the real potential of a militant, non-compromising, politically radical action, the real potential of a fighting body founded for the exclusive end of building a strike."

    The authors of this statement clearly believe that building for strikes and shut downs of existing workplaces and other institutions is the best way to develop revolutionary consciousness and organization in the current conjuncture.

    But actually--despite many interesting aspects of this summation--I don't see any clear argument here for privileging this form above others...The special value of the strike form seems to be more asserted than argued for.

    Indeed towards the end this document seems to verge on a dogmatic insistence that building for a strike is the 'one true path' for showing the way (not a quote, but still).

    Much of Advance the Struggle's critique of existing "Centrist" and "Adventurist" tendencies seems compelling to me--though I have little first hand knowledge of what has actually transpired on these campuses. Further the emphasis on developing a radical pedagogy in the midst of struggles is good to see. But the idea that the "exclusive" focus on building for strikes is the best pedagogical school is a proposition that I don't see actually proven here. And it seems a bit too "exclusive" actually.

    I'm not even disagreeing with the idea that strikes can be tremendous revolutionary classrooms...But that said, it seems to me that we ought not to neglect the possibilities of communist pedagogical engagement in many more forums and places than one.

  • Guest - Radical-Eyes

    In response to this Advance the Struggle paper, a friend of mine shared news of the following recent (radical) conference. Summing up and building upon March 4th was a major topic of discussion here. And the full footage of the conference is (apparently) available online.

    Worth checking out.

    BENEATH THE UNIVERSITY: THE COMMONS
    http://www.beneaththeu.org/Beneath_the_University/video_archive.html

    http://www.beneaththeu.org/Beneath_the_University/home.html

  • Guest - big l

    Building for a strike entails explication of why strikes are the most powerful weapon the working class has in battle against capital and the state.

    You say: "But that said, it seems to me that we ought not to neglect the possibilities of communist pedagogical engagement in many more forums and places than one."

    Did you read the conclusion? This is what we call for . . . "Paulo Friere correctly argues that we cannot sloganize politics to the working class but rather need to develop a skillful pedagogy where revolutionaries engage in a political dialogue with the working class and master the art of teaching coupled with the art of listening . . . "

  • Guest - Socialist Organizer

    Here is a response to the AS piece by Socialist Organizer, "Lessons of March 4: A Marxist Analysis":

    http://www2.socialistorganizer.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=384&Itemid=1

  • Guest - Radical-Eyes

    To Big L: First off, as it appears you are involved in the AS project, thank you for this thoughtful summation.

    And, yes, I do appreciate the emphasis on pedagogy--and the emphasis on the relevance of the work of Freire in particular. Thanks for that as well.

    What I was trying to say is that, while I am well aware of a number of arguments for strikes as ultimately a powerful weapon for waging struggle against capitalists or the state, that is not quite the same thing as establishing that organizing for a strike is the best way to create the conditions for meaningful revolutionary, communist pedagogical work.

    Perhaps one can even imagine situations where focusing exclusively on organizing for a strike action may close down more than open up opportunities for engaging people in discussions about the need for system change and such?...

    I guess what I am trying to caution against mistaking a valuable and even indispensible working-class weapon for being (in itself) a radical pedagogical method. Does that make sense?

Leave your comments

Post comment as a guest

0 Character restriction
Your text should be more than 10 characters
Your comments are subjected to administrator's moderation.