By Michael Albert
Should Sanders bow out or carry on? If Clinton gains the nomination, should Sanders actively support her, hold his nose and urge voting against Trump, run as an independent, or run as a Green – and in all states or only in selected safe states? For that matter, should there be a grassroots effort at creating new local or national organization, whether with or without Sanders? Should mass movements persist, enlarge, diversify, merge? Should local movements and campaigns persist, enlarge, diversify, merge? These and other questions now attract attention, with much greater attention to come. And if we strip the specifically U.S. context from the contending positions, broadly similar issues arise in France, Spain, Mexico, the Philippines, India, South Africa, Greece, Egypt, Ireland, Canada, Brazil, Chile, and on and on.
To answer in each place what to do next is contextual however each is not totally different than the rest. That is, in each place the choice is about enlarging current left possibilities to win serious gains and even to open a path toward new social relations. Some choices should be favored over others in each place precisely and only if they will likely advance left prospects better. Seeking left gains means rolling with what resonates. Some writers think they already know the best answer for here, or for here and there, or even for here, there, and everywhere. They say their preferred choice is good and all else is bad, on their preferred choice is right and all else is wrong, on their preferred choice is radical or revolutionary and all else is liberal or sell out – and so on. The trouble is, this is all not only unsupportable by real evidence indicating what would resonate best and why, it is even nonsensical.
The choices at hand are not in about themselves – like seeking, say, peace or justice is just about peace or justice. They are instead choices in pursuit of a situation that will be better support pursuing other aims, like peace and justice. That which offers more promise is better. I don’t know, now, indeed, I have little more than weak guesses, now, about what, in context, will rresonate better later, even in my own country, much less everywhere. Those who say they do, it is hard for me to fathom how they could.
So does this leave me and anyone who is similarly unclear about the merits of contending current tactical options only able to watch others debate the choices as if they have reliable answers already? I don’t think so.
Envision in your mind that any of the outcomes happens, here in the U.S. among those I mentioned, or wherever you are, among your contending possibilities. I claim that whatever scenario unfolds there is one thing in the U.S. – and I suspect pretty much everywhere – that would make the scenario stronger and more likely desirable. Indeed, I contend that there is one thing that would even be essential for the scenarios that emerge to have any chance of serious success.
And this is not even a new need. I have been active in seeking new societal relations since 1966. Fifty years. And I think this need, and thus avenue for doing something valuable, has existed that whole time, and I would also argue that not fully and sustainably meeting this need, over those fifty years, has had much to do with where we find ourselves now.
So what could we do that would strengthen any scenario that might unfold tactically, any set of choices and circumstances, both in the U.S. and around the world – that would be critically important whether with Sanders of without, with a new party or with Greens, with insurgency in the Democratic Party same old same old in the Democratic Party, with new grassroots organization or without it, with Clinton in office or even with Trump, and so on, and likewise for the broadly related possibilities elsewhere?
Envision any one of the possibilities. Consider it occurring and the broad constituency of progressives having no shared program for what it wants to win in the near and middle term. And now consider the scenario you are envisioning occurring but having such shared program in place. For that matter, consider it occurring and having no shared vision for the society it claims to ultimately seek, or having elements of such a shared vision and a process for arriving at more.
Is there anyone, anywhere, who wants new social relations of a left sort who would claim that not having shared program and vision among the widest array of progressive would be better than having it? Even further, is there anyone, anywhere, who wants new societal social relations of a left sort who would deny that our not having shared program and vision would weaken and perhaps literally destroy our prospects of serious success?
Does anyone doubt, put differently, that we need shared program so as to have coherent and mutually supportive campaigns of sufficient size to win real gains, or for that matter even to have enough credibility and clarity to attract serious and sustained support? And, while perhaps a more subtle point, on thinking about it isn’t the same true for having shared answers to the question, what do you want – not just for today, but ultimately for society?
If you think having program that huge numbers of people across constituencies and borders engage with, improve, and make their own would not enhance left prospects whichever tactical choices emerge in the coming months, fine, we can agree to disagree. But for those who see that shared program is necessary for success – what should we do? Do we contribute to the contextual and for the most part under informed debate about immediate choices for Sanders, the Greens, and so on, as if there are too few discussions of these matters and we have something valuable to add that others haven’t heard or won’t soon hear? Or should we try to contribute to the quest for shared program – and even shared vision – that is needed if whatever emerges from Sanders, Greens, Podemos, Corbyn, French masses in the streets, Greeks exploding yet again, or Venezuelans in intense crisis, are to sustainably and effectively struggle on to real gains and finally new social relations?
Recently 87 writers and activists took the unprecedented step of collectively signing a document offering programmatic ideas. they did it to propel a wide, public, cross constituency, and cross border pursuit of shared program. You, dear reader, undoubtedly know of and even admire at least a significant number of those 87, and would likely feel that way about every one of them, on meeting and talking together. So it is a nice start, and it is offered with precisely that meaning.
Two of the 87 thought about it and realized, this is nice, but how is it a start if there is no follow up? So, as one kind of follow up they created a web site called People for a Shared Program. It offers the original document, but it also offers, front and center, what will hopefully be regularly updated revision of the ideas in that document in light of assessments coming in from people joining the effort to develop shared program. And to those ends, the site offers a blog system, a forum system, and commenting for people to offer their ideas. And it has a sign up – too – for people to join in the call for developing shared program.
Below I include some excerpts from a letter the new site sent to many individuals and, in particular, to alternative media outlets, hoping to create momentum on behalf of the project.
> “87 people including Noam Chomsky, Hilary Wainwright, Walden Bello, Kathy Kelly, Bill Fletcher, Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Leslie Cagan, Marina Sitrin, Laura Flanders, Michael Albert, and 77 more signed a collective document titled “Possible Ideas for Going Forward.” They addressed economy, gender, sexuality, race, ecology, health, education, and international relations. They offered the document hoping to facilitate a wide discussion arriving at shared program. The document is a starting point. The authors explicitly seek participation to take it further.”
This is precisely bottom up. Even if the document had been signed by only one person, and even if that one person was a total egomaniac or narcissist or sexist, racist thug who would love to boss everyone around – still, what bottom up means here is not that everyone simultaneously starts something, or that only saints are involved, but that the unfolding process is participatory and leads to a large or even a huge number of people addressing, developing, and arriving at some or perhaps even a lot of shared programmatic commitments.
> “We all agree the left needs to develop solidity and coherence. This site furthers that task. Please give it some visibility however you are able. Perhaps sign on yourself. Perhaps post content relating to it.”
The appeal is clear, especially to alternative media. Doesn’t it make more sense to do this, whether in addition to other pursuits, or even instead of some, then to once again let this need go unaddressed?
Is there lots of program floating around? Of course there is. But is it shared? Do single issue groups support multi issue program? Do groups even know what other groups seek much less develop shared program even as they retain their own priorities? Do mass movements enunciate program that others support? For mutual aid? And so on.
>“Envision single issue efforts retaining their earlier priority, but adding a degree of multi issue attention and support, and receiving back support from others…in a tapestry of mutual aid.”
>”Envision operations that are already multi issue and clear about their aims, explicitly coordinating and intertwining their agendas with those of other operations.”
>”Envision that the current upsurge of progressive electoral activity around the world attains programmatic depth and solidarity based on wide discussion and comprehension that crosses borders and increases activist comprehension and commitment.”
What the 87 writers from around the world revealed by co-signing their document, I think, and what the campaigns like those of Sanders and Corbyn revealed, and what the upsurges like Occupy and Black Live Matter, and those in France, Greece, Spain, and South Africa, and so on revealed, is that “broad agreement sufficient for arriving at such shared program very likely already exists, though too often invisibly, without wide public expression, and without mutual recognition and support. The aim of the project is, therefore, to reveal shared desires, to give them clarity and depth, and to give them clear voice.”
The letter from the site seeking visibility for the campaign goes on to say,
“Everyone urges bottom up participation and horizontalism. Everyone urges having solidarity based on listening and hearing and engaging with folks who have different priorities.” And, okay, not everyone, but nowadays most on the left do urge these values. So the site adds:
>”Envision progressive media outlets, activist projects, unions, political parties, and mass movements not only debating possible new programmatic ideas, and not only demonstrating about and working on their own current priorities, but adopting considerable shared program.”
And then the letter gets very practical:
>”Please visit the new site People for Shared Program. Consider the current version of the “Possible Ideas for Going Forward” document on the home page. If you agree with its 87 signers that it provides a useful jumping off place for necessary programmatic discussion, please Sign On in support.
> “But mostly, if you are so inclined, please contribute to trying to develop and spread shared program. That is the crux of it.
>”You could join the forum discussions. You could post a blog. You could spread knowledge of the project and the site to other venues and organizations, like we are trying to do with this email.
>”You could urge people you know, or an organization you are in, or media outlets you relate to or work with to discuss and enrich, correct, refine, enlarge, the evolving possible ideas document, which will be updated weekly. Indeed, you could just pass this invitation on to others.
The letter then notes, I think quite accurately, that “Without alternative media visibility, this effort will fail. But if alternative media highlights it, urges it on, and joins in exploration, criticism, and debate, the effort can succeed.” So, will we?