re: “divide & conquer”; revolutionary strategy


Richard Moore

Date: Sun, 24 May 1998
From: Greg Moses <•••@••.•••>
To: •••@••.•••
Subject: Re: On: "divide & conquer"

    > According to Caspar Davis, Gitlin's thesis is that the
    > common dream of  a just and equitable society was
    > abandoned about 1970 in favor of the pursuit by various
    > groups such as    (initially) blacks, then women, gays,
    > handicapped people, chicanos etc of    their own special
    > interests. This splintering was accompanied by the decline of
    > organized labor as a moral force.

Gitlin's desire for globalized organization--and this list's work
in that direction--is inspiring.  But I think we could use less of
the retrospective accounting which posits a "once-unified left"
that was "abandoned by special interest groups."  This analysis
seems to imply that the left was doing very well until
everybody deserted the white guys over at SDS.

    > Another commentator (I'm not sure who) says that we
    > should work to bring  "believers and non-believers" together,
    > "since many traditional forms of activism  do not adequately
    > address spirituality."  This same commentator then puzzles
    > over  the problem of "uniting liberals and conservatives"--"i
    > would like to increase the  gulf between myself, my co-
    > workers, my friends and family, and the liberals which
    > currently run this country.  i think we are going to need to
    > learn to fight the  right, rather than trying to accomodate
    > them.  sorry to harp on this class war  bit, but there are
    > definitely a few people who exploit many people, and it is not
    > in the interests of the many to be trying to get consensus with
    > those few."

I am puzzled by the juxtaposition of opinions.  First, the
passage encourages us to "adequately address spirituality."
Next, the passage encourages an increase in the gulf between
ourselves and "the liberals who run this country."  What
worries me is the rush to define who's in or who's out before
any particular issue has been clearly enunciated.  This sort of
spirituality will get its fight soon enough, since it presumes to
identify its enemies in advance.  I was hoping that another
form of spirituality might be emerging that would try very
hard to see everyone as people first, define what's best for
people first, and then welcome anyone who wants to help out.
When activists guess in advance that they will meet resistance
on some as-yet-undefined global issues, they might prepare
themselves to maximize the humanity of this struggle for
everyone, including whoever turns up as opponents.

Wouldn't this pass for spirituality among believers and
nonbelievers alike?

Take care--Greg Moses

From: <•••@••.•••>

Dear rn-list,

I'm glad to see people jumping in and participating on this `divide &
conquer' thread.  This is clearly one of the central issues in
revolutionary strategy -- creating unity in the movement to overcome elite
corporate hegemony.

The current power structure is so strongly entrenched that it cannot be
overcome by the tactics and strategies that have been employed by `the
people' up until now.  In the US in particular, there have been hundreds of
movements of all sorts, many of them around labor conditions and unions,
throughout the two centuries of US history.  This activist history is not
taught in schools and most of us don't know about it, and hence most of us
don't know what lessons were learned by those movements.  Those who oppress
us, however, have learned from each encounter and have integrated
ever-more-refined counter-measures into their repression schemes.

One of the `movement strategies' that rose to prominence in the sixties and
seventies was the `single cause' approach.  We had the civil rights
movement, then the anti-war movement, and then the ecology movement, and
others.  Each of these enjoyed some success.  This approach seemd so
successful, in fact, that it has become `the norm', and today activism is
almost _defined to be joining some single-cause movement and devoting
energies to it.

In fact what happened in each case, was that a dynamic popular mobilization
occurred, a democratic movement if you will, an objective was `achieved',
and then the movement lost its momentum and power because of its very
success.  When the Civil Rights Bill was passed in the US, that was
essentially the death of the movement, as big a nail in its coffin as was
the death of Martin Luther King.

And when the war was ended, that was the end of the anti-war movement.  And
when the EPA (Environmental Protection Act) was passed, that defused the
environmental movement considerably, and turned it more into a dues-paying,
litigation-supporting `movement', integrated into the `business as usual'
scheme of things, and eventually accomplishing nothing, as we can see with
the accelerating proliferation of pesticides, pollution, rape-and-waste
agribusiness, toxic dumps, oil spills, nuclear leaks, etc. etc..

In a society which is more-or-less democratic, and in which representatives
more-or-less endeavor to represent their constituents, then single-cause
movements can be an important way for citizens to communicate their desires
to their elected officials, and to effect governement policy.  The
political _purpose of such movements is to achieve some particular
legislative result, and when it is achieved they are no longer needed.

But we no longer live in more-or-less democratic societies, at least not in
North America.  The give-and-take, social-democracy `contract' has been
abrogated by the elite, c. 1980, and government has become the exclusive
tool of capitalist interests.  Policies are _sold to the people, or
implemented _in _spite of the people -- the democratic process has simply
ceased to function in any effective way.

If such tyranny is to be overcome, it simply cannot be achieved by
attempting to _lobby our oppressors on single causes.  We must _replace our
oppressors across the board.  Every other approach is doomed to failure --
like throwing palm leaves in front of advancing tanks.

But this does not mean single-cause movements are a waste of time.  Such
movements naturally arise when people get fed up with this or that symptom
of capitalist domination, and such people should be encouraged to get
together and mobilize.

Whereas the causes themselves cannot be advanced by such movements any
longer, the _mobilization that occurs in forming them can be turned to
useful political purpose.  If we learn to see such movements as `democratic
stirrings', as the partial emerging of `popular consciousness', then we can
see them as being of revolutionary value, and can help guide them toward a
more general rising of `popular consciousness'.  Only if there _is a
popular consciousness is it possible to talk usefully about what
_strategies and _goals that conscousness should be encouraged to adopt.
First there has to be `the people' and the `the people' can achieve

There are four things that _informed activists can do to encourage and
guide such movements in useful directions.  The first is to point out to
leaders and members that _whatever useful campaign they are supporting, the
root cause of the problem they are addressing is always `corporate power',
and the opposition to their campaign can always be traced to `corporate
influence'.  This is easy to show in each case and this kind of education
is invaluable.

The second thing informed activists can do is to point out that their
campaign cannot be ultimately successful unless corporate power itself is
overcome.  Our elite oppressors have, over the decades, developed
counter-measures to blunt and defeat single-cause movements.    For one
thing, they've learned to ignore them in the media, rather than to give
slanted reports of them.  They learned that slanted reports did more to
advertise the movements than to discredit them.  Another couter-measure is
to play popular causes off against one another, as with logging workers and
environmentalists.  Another is to introduce toothless legislation to defuse
a movement, without waiting for the gates of Washington (or Ottowa or
wherever) to be stormed by millions of marchers.  Another is to sponsor all
kinds of manufactured movements, such as the `Promise Keepers', which have
agendas non-threatening to elite interests, and which are divisive of
popular energies.  And this is only a partial list of counter-measures
currently being deployed with intent and effectiveness.

The third thing informed activists can do is to point out to any particular
movement that there are hundreds of other movements worldwide, and that
solidarity among these movements can create a coalition with sufficient
weight to actually accomplish something.  Such solidarity begins to make
sense to people if they are aware that all the symptomatic problems are
traceable to corporate domination of our political and economic systems.

The fourth thing is to stick with these movements, and to keep encouraging
them to generalize their objectives and to join with sister movements in
solidarity.  In particular, as such movements encounter successes and
failures, it is important to participate in the `decision points' that
result, as this is when influence can be the most decisive.

Our ultimate revolutionary goal must be a _positive one, and to me that is
clearly the establishment of democracy under our constitutions.
Accomplishing that goal will overthrow corporate power as a side-effect.
And democracy comes about through popular participation, through
mobilization.  It is the _mobilization itself that is the most important
accomplishment of any movement under today's circumstances.


One of the most important mobilizations afoot right now is the anti-MAI
movement, particularly in Canada.  Can this movement be saved from its
tendency to focus on the narrow anti-MAI issue?  Charles Arden-Clarke's
`executive summary' of the May 17 strategy meeting, recently posted to
mai-not, was most discouraging on this point.  He said "The three concrete
outputs from the meeting were:

   1) a one page statement signed by most groups attending focused mainly
   on NGOs opposition to the MAI shifting into the WTO;

   2) agreement that the statement drafted following the Paris NGO strategy
   session would be worked on further to produce a statement rejecting the
   MAI as it still stands (ie updating the October statement);

   3) further work on the alternative Citizen's MAI proposal drafted by the
   Polaris Institute to establish the alternative space."

What these people have done is to draw a little circle around themselves,
limiting their scope of action, and making it very easy for their efforts
to be `programmed around' by those pushing the MAI.  The intiative is now
entirely with the propoponents of the MAI, who now have a whole spectrum of
tactics to choose from in order to accomplish their objectives.

I was only at the meeting for a few hours on the 17th, but Martin Kohr,
Tony Clark, myself, and several others made every attempt to point out the
folly of these kind of self-limiting tactics.  I don't know what arguments
eventually prevailed, but I hope Charles makes those available in his
fuller report.  Perhaps there's a hidden sense to them in which we can find
some encouragement.

There _is a `radical strategy' thread on the mai-not list and I encourage
all of you who participate on that list to help turn this thread into a
unified voice (among those of us who support it) for a coherent radical
strategy.  If those of us with a radical perspective can come to some unity
among ourselves, then we have some hope of helping to helping turn the
anti-mai movement into something that can't be co-opted and shunted aside
by the gathering pro-neoliberal `big guns' (mass media and all) that have
been heretofore intentionally silent on the MAI.

yours in revolution,


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