rn,sm> ZNet / Dowd: WHAT DO WE WANT? AND WHO ARE “WE”?


Richard Moore

Delivered-To: •••@••.•••
To: <•••@••.•••>
Subject: ZNet Commentary / Doug Dowd / What-Who / Nov 23 
Date: Wed, 22 Nov 2000 08:08:24 -0800
MIME-Version: 1.0

Commentaries are a premium sent to Sustainer Donors of Z/ZNet. To
learn more about the project and join folks can consult ZNet at
http://www.zmag.org or the ZNet Sustainer Pages at


By Doug Dowd

Alongside and arising from "Seattle" and subsequent protests
are questions such as the above -- by those participating in
and supporting, and those against the protests.  Those and
related questions have always deserved serious answers; now
more than ever.  The response here cannot be more than a

First, on the matter of demonstrations as such.  There is no
question of their necessity:  they are educational for all,
mind-openers for many; they often effectuate changes over
time that go beyond causing those on high to put on a nicer
face; they strengthen the organizations that bring them
about and add greatly to the numbers of those perceiving the
need to change the system.

However.  Necessary they are, sufficient they are not.  I am
reminded of the antiwar days, when I was always a member of
the steering committee of "the Mobe," which, as some will
remember, organized most of the national demos. In our
meetings I would usually raise the question "And what about
the day after the demo?"  My oft-repeated question had no
effect (except that I came to be called "TDA Dowd," and not
always with affection).  There can be no doubt that the
antiwar demos played a vital role in preventing the USA from
winning in Vietnam; but one must also pay atention to the
ugly fact that well before the war ended, the Right in the
USA was becoming stronger and we were becoming weaker --
fighting amongst ourselves, decreasingly able even to mount
strong demostrations.  So, once more:  and TDA?

It has been intrinsic to left political activity that we
spend almost all of our time and energy in fighting
"against," rather than "for."  There is always a crisis or
ongoing tragedy to struggle atainst:  before World War II,
against fascism (if also for unions); after it, against the
union-weakening Taft-Hartley Act, McCarthyism and the Cold
War, against racism and sexism and homophobia, against
Vietnam...; now, against globalization.

Whether we said it or knew it or not, all those fights were
against the same thing, of course:  a socioeconomic system
that depends upon, creates, and feeds exploitation,
inequality, repression and oppression, here and everywhere;
that endlessly seeks and finds all the means necessary to
slake its ravenous appetite for profits and power:  come
what may.  But (and except for a few small and rival groups)
we have not sought, let alone developed, a movement to fight
for an alternative system.

So, what do "we" want?  And who ARE we?  What can be said to
those who jump on us for being well-fed, witless and
fun-seeking troublemakers -- "outside agitators" --
intermittently getting high on a political spree?  More
importantly, what can we say to ourselves?

It is important to start with who "we"are, not just for
purposes of identification, but for our analyses and
politics.  We are all the peopols of the world; all those
who suffer from the centuries-old and continuing fuctions of
capitalism; who suffer from exploitation and material
deprivation to the point (for some billions) of dreadfully
shortened lives; that vast majority, in both rich and poor
countries, whose lives are shaped to fit the needs of
capital, which requires that human, social and environmental
needs are stifled, warped, ignored; who suffer, directly and
indirectly, from the systematic and universal
commodification of everything and everyone -- of our
education, our health, our cultures, our politics; who
suffer, all of us, both from the loss of vital elements of
our humanity that can never be regained in this social
system, ruled over as it is by mentalities and characters
combining those of gangsters and fraternity boys.

Now then, what do we want?  The answer to that should begin
by changing "want" to "need."  It is popular to denigrate
Marx these days; but -- and in addition to his other great
strengths -- his standard for the ideal society was just
right:  "From each according to ability, to each according
to need."   What do all human beings (and their diverse
societies, and Mother Nature) NEED?  As I have remarked
elsewhere, in the entire corpus of economic theory, one will
search in vain for the word "need": it is a four-letter --
dirty -- word.  Instead, the focus of theory is how we serve
capital by selling ourselves and buying their products --
not in such blunt language, to be sure; better for the
self-image of both economists and capital to spin ugly
realities into unintelligible equations.

What do we need?  There will be nothing new here (and much
else could be added):

    1.  Everyone -- everywhere -- needs full-scale health care,
    "womb to tomb," as the pre-Thatcherite British put it.
    2.  Everyone -- everywhere -- nees easy access to an
    educational system that includes but goes well beyond
    training, in order that the creative and constructive
    possibilities of our species can be nourished, not
    3.  There is no excuse whatsoever for anyone -- anwhere --
    to have less than an adequate diet.
    4.  Nor can any of these or other needs be met unless we all
    do something that WE need to do:  to learn what we need to
    know whil also UNlearning the system's "wisdom"; to spend
    substantial amounts of our (much-wasted) time and energy
    working with and developing a politics of the people, a
    politics going beyond what we have, comprising the needsa
    and possiblities of all wage-earners, irrespective of the
    color of their collar or skin, their gender or age or
    continent -- and, as well, the needs of the many millions of
    owners of family farms and other small businesses.  It will
    be objected that many of these are employers, exploitative
    themselves; but it must be noted that some notable
    percentage of these business people are anything but
    "capitalists"; in their small stores or workshops (etc.);
    they too are oppressed and victimized by giant firms; more
    often than not, the low net incomes and long hours of their
    businesses are part of an often futile attempt to maintain
    some kind of independence and dignity.  They can be among
    our allies if we let it be known that we are not among their
    enemies. To all the foregoing, one may add rising numbers of
    doctors, engineers and other professionals, on their way to
    recognizing that the giants are striding on their
    once-privileged terrain.   Has anyone been excluded?  Yes:
    those in the catbird seats of the big corporations and of
    Wall Street (and their inheritors), or those who seek to be.
      When the time comes, we may weep for them.

And this must be added:  Having begun with "wage-earners," a
moment's focus on organized labor is here essential.  The
bottom line for capital's bottom line always has been and
remains its ability to exploit workers (now added to by its
media-created abilities to to "exploit" consumers and
taxpayers). Thus the organization of workers into unions is
the main menace to capital's profits and power.  Whatever
else we struggle for, we must support unions and
unionization; otherwise, there can be no effective movement.

That said, the history of unionism in the USA,  bothersome
though it has been to capital, has never constituted a major
threat.  That is because U.S. workers only rarely, and never
effectively, have gone beyond creating a trade union
movement toward creating a labor movement.  The distinction
is critical.

A trade union seeks better wages, working conditions and
benefits for its members -- all absolutely necessary, all to
be supported.  The constitutent unions of a labor movement
do all that, also; but a labor movement also fights to
improve the conditions of the people as a whole, seeks to
achieve the political power to create an economically and
socially democratic society, using the tools of political
democracy.  The USA is unique among the major capitalist
nations in never having had a labor movement:  to the great
advantage of capital.  That absence helps to explain to the
lack of solidarity between well-organized workers and all
others, how easy it has been and is for capital to exploit
the differences among us, and to lead us to direct our aim
at each other instead of them.  Or to do nothing.  Thus:

    1.  Racism and sexism have only rarely been fought against
    by or in U.S. unions, even though the existence of  both
    weakens the unions themselves (apart from other
    2.  Unions' concernsd with economy as a while has been
    limited at best, harmful at worst.  The latter was
    exemplified  in the late 1940s when in the bargaining
    between the UAW and GM, Walter Reuther (among the best of
    U.S. union leaders) gave up the fight to keep GM from
    raising its prices and, instead, helped to create the
    contract provision that  provided auto workers' wages would
    rise along with inflation ("COLA").  That provision soon
    spread to all collective bargaining, its outcome that
    inflation's pains would be least for the strongest workers
    and greatest for the weakest.
    3.  Effective links between U.S. unions and the organized
    and unorganized workers abroad have always been weak (even
    in  the "international unions"), and usually non-existent. 
    That was a serious problem in the past; nowadays it may well
     mean slow death.  Most dramatically is that likely to be so
    for the "hottest" industry all -- computer hardware and 
    software production. Much-discussed in the industry today is
    that the combination of existing and growing skills,
    capital, and extremely low wages in (most clearly) India and
    China threatens soon to make the "downsizing and 
    outsourcing" of the automobile industry (among others) seem
    like a summer cold, compared to the possibility of  a
    wholesale displacement of that production to the poor
    countries.  "Workers of the world, unite!" was once a great 
    slogan; now it is a life or death imperative.
    4.  And then there was organized labor's combination of
    complacency and complicity in the Cold War, not least as 
    regarded Vietnam.   Traditional nationalism combined with
    what was seen as enlightened self-interest in ongoing 
    military expenditures -- even though worrkers ranked high
    among the ar's casualties.

Thus, just as those outside the trade union movement must
support those inside it, uinions and their members must do
likewise in the other direction, must support the many
struggles against exploitation, oppression and repression at
home and abroad.  There are hopeful signs in both directions
nowadays -- most clearly in Seattle.  But, as with
everything else noted above, there is a long, long road

That road must be traversed more quickly, more thoughtfully,
and more energetically than ever before in our history. 
Tens of millions even in thes richest country in the world
are living on or over the edge of desperation; for many
billions in the rest of the world desperation has moved to
calamity.  And all that may well be but a prelude to
considerably more disastrous developments.

The presumed achievements of globalization have been
accompanied by -- have required -- the already high and
always rising fragility of national economies and of the
intensely globalized framework within which they now operate
and upon which their continued "health" depends.It is a
certainty that a recession awaits, despite the euphoria
about the uniqueness of  "the new economy." Where a
recession will begin cannot be known, nor is it that
important, given the tight integration of the global
economy.  Whether it will begin with a "soft" or a "hard
landing" is just as unimportant:  that of 1929, it has been
forgotten, began with a "soft landing," a minor recession;
the roller coaster ride to its full depths was not reached
until 1933.  Today's world economy is considerably more
dominated by speculative finance than anything earlier;
Humpty Dumpty is in for a great fall.

Keeping in mind what happened -- economically, socially,
politically, militarily -- in the decade after 1929 (and
remembering the euphoria preceding it), that suggests that
we, and many more than we, must step and greatly alter our
poltical efforts.  Demonstrations must be seen as part of an
uninterrupted movement, a movement always broadending and
deepening in its scope and its purposes, its purposes, and
its strengths.  And, it needs saying, even were there NEVER
to be a slump, "we" need to create another world; this one