Crisis and Consciousness: Reflections and Lessons from March 4th

Crisis and Consciousness:

Lessons and Reflections from March 4th

Tables of Contents

  1. Introduction to March 4th
  2. October 24th Compromise
  3. City committees: Oakland and LA, Class Struggle Left 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 Consciousnesa
  7. Seattle: Worker-Student Power
  8. Conclusion
  9. Appendix
    1. Canada Community College
    2. UC Berkeley marches to Oakland
    3. Youth lead in Oakland
    4. CCSF

I. Introduction

Spirit is indeed never at rest but always engaged in moving forward. But just as the first breath drawn by a child after its long, quiet nourishment breaks the gradualness of merely quantitative growth – there is a qualitative leap, and the child is born.

– Hegel

March 4th provides us with a snapshot into the strategic and theoretical frameworks used by the Left to understand, develop and radicalize consciousness; we begin to see patterns emerge as this consciousness is translated into working class action, and we begin to ask ourselves what is needed to learn from these actions and begin developing a revolutionary consciousness and practice to address the ongoing crisis of capital.

In our last analysis of the anti-budget cut movement we identified two dominant political forces on campuses – the adventurists and the centrists (trotskyists mainly, but not exclusively).  As we stated in Opening Shot, the political tension was between:

. . . the twin pitfalls of tailism (following behind proposals for petitions and legalistic protests) on the one hand, and adventurism (isolated militant action) on the other. Both of these approaches sidestep the political consciousness of the masses.

This was written at a very early stage of the movement, but even then it was clear to us that the differences of approaches to radicalizing consciousness were key determinants in differentiating the political forces in the movement. However, these differing approaches have often gone under-theorized due to the emphasis amongst activists being on questions of tactics.  Which tactic is right for the movement at any given time?  The adventurists and the centrists almost always answered this question differently, even if in practice they acted in temporary unison.  For instance, after the successful occupation of Wheeler Hall on November 20th (where over 2000 students defended an occupied building), we wrote that:

In the campus movement, the two primary answers to this question have been popular organizing (general assemblies) and militant resistance (occupations). What happened last week at university campuses across California was a step toward a synthesis of these two approaches.

A synthesis of these two approaches has not happened since.  Rather, what has happened is a sharpening of the differences and tensions between these dominant and at times competing approaches towards developing consciousness and turning these developments into strategic advancements in the movement.  At the same time, we have also seen the development of a third approach that we call a genuine class struggle left and the purpose of our writing here is to excavate by positive example this emerging left approach.  The strengthening of the movement and the radicalization of political consciousness amongst the working class are crucial components of turning movements of resistance into schools of revolutionary training.  For this reason it is necessary to briefly examine the positive and negative aspects of the adventurist and centrist tendencies in order to identify what we can learn from each group’s methodologies, as well as which aspects we should leave behind.  We are not aiming to abstractly compare ideologies against each other but rather seeking to identify how these ideologies relate towards the development of struggle.  In writing this we must emphasize that the three main tendencies we identify are strategic approaches towards intervening in struggles and radicalizing consciousness; they are not reducible to individual people or even individual organizations.  Proof of this is found in the differential approaches activists in the same Trotskyist organizations have taken in different geographical locations, specifically between UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz.

Our conception of consciousness is that people’s consciousness is dialectical; it constitutes a “unity of opposites” in that there is a contradictory relation between radical ideas about society as well as bourgeois ideology (mainstream ideas.)  The work of revolutionaries should be to push on the radical side and counterpose it to the bourgeois side in order to resolve the contradiction in favor of revolution.  Our adventurist and centrist comrades get the dialectics of consciousness wrong, each in their own way.

Both the adventurists and the centrists seek to unleash mass revolt, but neither fully comprehends how to do so.  The adventurists think that mass revolt is sparked by inspirational actions of the more radical minority ready for confrontation.  The centrists believe instead that those with advanced consciousness must hold themselves to what the (liberal) majority is ready for in order not to become marginalized.  These perspectives are reflected in the organizational structures characteristic of each trend: closed but radical secret meetings of the adventurists and open but liberal bureaucratic general assemblies of the centrists. In order to recognize the significance of the emergent left approach we should acknowledge both the strengths and weaknesses of these two main currents.

In the eyes of the adventurists who produced After the Fall, the success of the Wheeler occupation was not a synthetic moment between two approaches but rather “displacement” of the two approaches by “a militant desire to communize private property.”  This statement stands in contradiction to the fact that the occupation was proposed at a general assembly which, while not disclosing the location of the occupation, made it publically known that direct actions would occur and thereby was a step forward from the failed occupation of September 24th that caught students completely off guard.  This moment in our eyes objectively represents a partial step towards synthesis.

What the preceding quote from After the Fall does accurately reveal is the fact that people were in fact ready for militant action.  While we may question how much of this was a genuine “desire to communize private property” in the sense that the adventurists understand this, it was indeed a reflection of the embryonic militancy residing deep within the consciousness of a significant portion of students.  Many working class people intuitively understand that lobbying politicians, petitioning the power structure, and having peaceful rallies and protests are not enough; the direct actions of the adventurists provide a space for this latent militancy to manifest itself in practice. Our insurrectionary comrades get credit for acknowledging that aspects of people’s consciousness are ready for action. Mobilizing people on the basis of intuitive militancy, however, is a far step from the type of protracted and pedagogical work that must be done in order to sustain and develop this intuitive combativeness into revolutionary consciousness and fighting organizational forms.

The centrists, on the other hand, verbally acknowledge that occupations can be politicizing moments, but heavily qualify this support and highlight the necessity of building organization.  As one Trotskyist group puts it, “occupations and other forms of direct action can be productive if they have mass participation, if they have a clear purpose and demands, and if they are democratically decided on by the movement as a whole.” [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:

It is clear that the conditions exist for every school and perhaps every public institution to form political committees composed of workers, students and teachers that attempt to organize their workplaces and schools for militant struggle in general and a strike on March 4thin particular. Unions will pass watered down resolutions for March 4th, which is a positive development, but rank-and-file militants are the key link in motivating the majority of their coworkers to take political responsibility for the strike building process to reach its radical, creative potential.  Unions cannot do this for the workers.

This is undoubtedly still true. The statewide conference helped form a statewide network, and it left it up to the organizers around the state to build vision and perspective from their bases up- and outward.  Following the conference, a northern California regional meeting was called for December 5th.  There, activists proposed the formation of city committees throughout California to build March 4th. Quickly Oakland, San Francisco, Richmond, San Jose, Santa Cruz, Los Angeles, San Diego and a whole host of other cities formed their committees, and March 4th flyers were produced and hitting the streets.  Such committees can and should build smaller committees that can organize schools and workplace for the coming struggles. Hundreds of students, teachers, and workers have already joined such committees throughout the state and helped spread the word through a variety of means and channels. The problems built into the logic of the compromise arose quickly as internal debates in these meetings over the political language of the flyers. Should it have “Strike” or “walkout” on the flyer, or just “Day of Action?”  Left militants fought for the perspective of a strike and walkouts in such meetings; this fight was animated by perception of an opening for challenging and inspiring the working class through confrontational action by its advanced minority.

What hurt more than tactical confusion was the lack of worker militants in major workplaces.  These militants could have organized and called for strikes through their own organic horizontal channels against the will of their conservative unions.  Without these motors from below, unions in LA attempted to sabotage the radical organizing, dominate the scene with their speakers and perspectives, and push out all the activists that had a bottom-up perspective of struggle.  In northern California union leadership aligned with a conservative Trotskyist organization, and together fought against all daytime actions in the name of a 5pm rally at the SF civic center.  This position not only reinforced the 9-5 work discipline, but more importantly precluded any support for daytime job actions!

The various March 4th committees, regional meetings, and statewide conferences have been important forms to build and sharpen the struggle against the cuts.  But with March 4th now behind us we need more than form in the coming struggle; we need radical political vision, concrete objectives for the movement and a strategy of building towards system-wide strike-waves designed to shut down education statewide to fight the cuts.  An explicit political orientation towards taking control of the workplace that would exhibit and so build independent class power.

A. Oakland

The Oakland March 4th committee both pushed a radical pro-strike line and successfully involved masses of working people.  A key result of this orientation was that Oakland created the first March 4th flyer in December and started agitating hard amongst the area’s working-class communities.  The committee helped militant teachers from the Oakland Educators Association (the Oakland public school teachers’ union) push for a strike over the union’s lack of contract.  89% of the membership voted for “a day of action up to and including a strike.” The two bodies reinforced each other’s energy: pro-strike forces in the union argued that the committee would rally community support for the stoppage, while the committee was energized by this connection to militant workers.  But when the union leadership voted, the executive board voted down the strike 6 against 5—a one vote difference!

Though the teachers did not strike, students self-organized walkouts from several high schools.  These marches mostly began in East Oakland, a neighborhood that has long experienced both the structural violence of economics and the direct violence of the state.  Marching students with some teachers called folks out of schools along the way, a key example of horizontal organizing through action.  Meanwhile a rally at local Laney College turned into a march to the downtown rally, eventually intersecting with a high school march to loud cheers.

Nearly 1,000 Oakland high schoolers, largely Black and Latino, walked out of their schools without any fighting. The rally, organized in a bottom up way, made it so mainly youth spoke at the rally politicizing and electrifying other Oakland youth.  The young speakers, using Oakland lingo, were able to make very strong connections about how defunding schools leads to Black and Brown youth being criminalized and imprisoned.

When the Berkeley march arrived in Oakland, energy exploded and the unified crowds was bursting with positive social movement energy. The next speaker talked about how Oaklanders should be proud of the fact that Oakland is the place of the very last general strike in American history in 1946, and how twenty years later the Black Panthers were born out of the same city.  A Democratic Party politician and their entourage was turned away from the mic, displaced by the voices of militant students from universities, community colleges, and high schools . . . a glimmer of radical class unity.

Anarchists and occupationists led a breakaway march from the rally. There was a sense that something bolder needed to be done, and that rallies alone are not enough. Under the logic of “shutting down transportation and the means of production” the breakaway march went onto the Freeway with many drivers supporting the action honking their horns in sympathy. It is very significant to note that this action did not alienate the majority of working-class folks driving on the freeway (as centrists, of course, predicted).  This can be seen from local news coverage, which shows bemused but vaguely supportive people standing outside of their stopped cars cheering on the highway occupiers.   On the other hand we must be honest that shutting down traffic at 5pm is crucially different than working-class people shutting down the institutions they run in their daily lives. Although blocking the freeway effects production, it involves people not in their capacities as teacher, mother, maid, programmer, and student, but as spectators to the actions of a minority of insurgents.  Nonetheless the freeway action gave folks with militant consciousness a place to do something far more confrontational that simply attend a rally.

Some insurrectionists have criticized the organizers of the rally (including us) for discouraging Oakland youth from participating in the breakaway march.  The thinking behind this announcement was that because folks would not know the destination of the march until it got to the freeway, they would somehow be “tricked” into a situation they did not choose.  This is somewhat true: the act of approaching a freeway is likely to lead to police repression, due to the very reasons the insurrectionists targeted it.  And so participants could have felt “tricked” into confrontation with police, in the same way many participants felt “entrapped” in the September 24th occupation that was called during (and around!) a UC Berkeley general assembly.

The error we and other organizers made was to overcompensate in our move to avoid the Sept. 24th fiasco.  Instead of encouraging people NOT to go on the march, we should have announced the freeway goal and encouraged anyone prepared to go!  This is a key moment where the left perspective can emerge: supporting the active expression of the contradictory nature of actually existing class -consciousness.  Key mistakes like these are important moments for reflection and self-critique; we will be wary in the future of missing opportunities for militancy in solidarity with mass peaceful action.

B. Los Angeles

March 4th was a great day in Los Angeles. Students from CSULA, CSUN, PCC, LACC, ELAC, Santee High, Jefferson High, Belmont High, LA High, Manuel Arts, LACES, and many other schools walked out.  Cal State University Los Angeles had a rally that started at 9:30am with community members who gathered in the free-speech area.  The protest turned into a march and called professors and students to get out of class and join the march.  Signs read, “Tax the Rich, Bail Out the Students, Teachers and Workers” and “Can’t Pay Wont Pay for this Crisis!” People were chanting “Walk-Out, Walk-Out”. The rally started with about 40 people, but once the march passed three or four buildings, over 100 folks joined up.  There was an open mic rally in front of financial aid and the administration buildings and the crowd was fired up.  Many spoke out about the economic crisis, pointing out that the cuts in education were not an isolated incident but rather an extension of the failure of our economic system, capitalism.  The crowd was largely composed of women of color.  A few sisters who came said they had never been to anything like this before and were very inspired to fight and will continue to get involved.  People spoke against the privatization of education, and one high school student Felipe pointed out that this “would only serve to increase the gap between the rich and us the poor.”

There were some who doubted the ability of the LA M4 Committee and doubted the fighting spirit of the youth and workers they were reaching out to.  The same folks underestimated the union bureaucracy’s attempts to contain this movement.  An in-depth description of LA and Oakland are necessary to demonstrate the possibilities that existed throughout the state.  Every city had the potential for daytime actions that stopped business as usual; why did only Oakland and LA successfully do so? We submit that the relationship between a class struggle Left and the organizational form of the M4 committees played a central role in providing channels for this working-class militancy to explode.

IV. San Francisco: Center Trumps Left

In San Francisco the massive 5pm rally and the conflict at SF State showed both the objective basis for mass struggle and the actual results of the centrist perspective.


A student coalition built towards March 4th for months.  On the day of, the CFA (CSU Faculty Union) held an informational picket (not intended to disrupt school) at the top of 19th and Holloway.  Meanwhile some students formed picket lines around the business and ethnic studies buildings, and at some points linked arms urging students not to cross the line. Around noon a large rally was held at Malcolm X plaza, where “Agitprop”, or political theatre was performed on the stage. About a thousand students gathered to watch the show. At the same time, students on the lawn made signs, screen printed t-shirts, others made political art, and overall there was a feeling of festivity.

About an hour into the CFA’s picket, which had accumulated a few hundred supportive students, a group of students decided to march into 19th and block traffic. The crowd divided between those students who continued to march in circle with the CFA urging them to stay on the sidewalk, while a couple hundred students remained in the street, blocking both sides of 19th avenue, which is a highway. After about 10 minutes, students left the street and rejoined the picket.  After the rally, which had great art but no speakers, participants either filtered away or headed downtown to the 5pm rally.

Throughout the semester, confusion over its mandate had made the SFSU anti-budget-cut coalition divided over tactics and politics: strike or day of action, occupations or general assemblies, etc.  This lack of agreement about basic political orientation in a small group often led to a sectarian, battleground dynamic of organizations blocked against each other.  Despite constant calls to “keep the space positive for newcomers” it never became that way despite the valiant efforts of a few independents.  Ultimately the coalition divided into people who agreed with centrist California Faculty Association (CFA) activists and those who didn’t.  The two CFA activists generally adopted a paternalistic tone to any activists on their left, referring to them as “immature” and eventually denouncing the coalition after every activist did not submit to the demand of one professor that every activist sign a “nonviolence pledge.”  These pressures pushed the Left and Adventurist together, but both were too disorganized by the good-faith energy put into the failed coalition organizing to build for and execute what they had hoped on March 4th.  Despite militant history, both recent and in the ‘60s, on March 4th the Left and adventurist were disorganized and ended up outmaneuvered and isolated by the actions of both center and police.

The coalition and the left forces within it were paralyzed by unresolved questions of militancy, tactics, and character of the day itself. If the Left had maintained organizational independence, coherence and unity (e.g., Seattle and UCSC), then it could have moved forward with the fighting work of building March 4th.  It is this kind of fighting organization that has effectively overcome the alienation that centrists fear militancy might inspire in broader sections of society.  This approach displays a stronger political substance than the impulse to submit to the current level of mass consciousness.

The centrist logic places primary importance on coalitional work and united fronts at the expense of unifying political vision.  Ideally, fighting bodies are broadly inclusive, but if this comes at the cost of a clear mandate and political substance, then the paralysis experienced in the SFSU coalition prevents independent, horizontal outreach and agitation.  Coalitions and united fronts should not be underestimated, however they fail without a clear mandate, and MORE IMPORTANTLY, the logic of a united front should NOT be mutually exclusive with independent organizational initiative.  Union leaders and coalition-ists should not try to stifle independent action and advanced political orientation; if they do, then independents have much more to contribute to struggle by showing the way forward and building their own shit than by submitting to the centrists in an incoherent coalition space.

5PM Rally

One conservative trotskyist organization, along with the conservative trade-union leadership formed an alliance with closed meetings and urged people not to do anything during that day. Their thinking was that conditions were too premature to call for strikes, protest and walkouts and that energy should be centered on a permitted after work rally.  10,000 people showed up from all over the bay representing a quantitative strength with high energy in the 5 o’clock hour.  But as participants were more spectators than actors on the top-down managed stage, people quickly starting leaving around 6pm. The building of such a rally unfortunately was done partly by discouraging people to attend day time actions.  More nefariously, multiple people witnessed Berkeley and Oakland March 4th flyers getting ripped down to build the 5:00 PM Civic Center rally.  The attempt of the San Francisco March 4th committee to organize a daytime rally was completely overwhelmed by the amount of the energy, both self-organized and through union bureaucracies, put into the 5pm rally.  The logic of the rally was based on characterizing the working class as completely unready to strike, leading the organizers of this rally to fight politically against organizers who proposed a strike. This approach failed to recognize the possibilities inherent in even the current state of working-class consciousness, mobilizing thousands for the purpose of simply doing something.

V.  UC Berkeley vs. UC Santa Cruz: Campus Committees Choose Focus

Even though protests against budget cuts had been taking place throughout California, such as Los Angeles, Alameda, and SF State in the last couple of years, UC Berkeley opened a new page of struggle on September 24th 2009 when 5,000 protested and struck against layoffs and budget cuts. Unfortunately the UC Berkeley March 4th Committee was unable to maintain cohesion and reproduce mass struggle due to its lack of a clear mandate. The UC Berkeley March 4th committee had a clear mandate: to build a strike at Cal via mass actions designed to shut down the campus to the greatest degree possible.  But throughout its life, the committee lacked political cohesion.  It was torn from the beginning over the details, over violence and non-violence, over more militant direct action versus less confrontational mass action.  The committee had a mandate, but it never established for everyone involved the content and form of that mandate.  Instead, building a strike at Cal meant something different for all the different tendencies and personalities in the room.  As a result, there was no coherent organizational agenda to systematize outreach in buses, classrooms and public spaces, build committee meetings to enhance logistical outreach capacity, and overcome ideological differences for the sake of building militant action oriented around shutting campus down to the extent possible.

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 UC Berkeley March 4th committee did not empower people; it did not forge from the ground up an independent and coherent vision for March 4th.  Instead, it became an open forum for pre-constituted groups to vie for their established perspectives.  It was a coalition space, not a space designed to build a strike—to the exclusion of all competing ideologies and against all obstacles. The committee failed to stake its existence from the beginning on making the political argument that the strike is the weapon to fight the cuts and politicize individuals into revolutionaries.

One of the main flaws in the UC Berkeley March 4th committee was that it failed to actively engage and organize the student body, instead it took on a coordinating role between various organizational bodies on campus.  The failure to directly mobilize students and workers had a demoralizing effect on the organizers involved because they failed to see the day-to-day results of their organizational decisions.  The committee also failed to use the AFSCME 444 resolution as a tool to agitate the AFSCME 3299 workers on campus in order to build a pro-strike consciousness amongst the workers, unlike UC Santa Cruz.  The most dynamic aspect of Berkeley organizing was the militant and massive march to the local working-class center of downtown Oakland, described below.

Santa Cruz

March 4th at UC Santa Cruz exhibits all of the best characteristics of Left and adventurist organizing.  A UCSC strike committee organizer has written an excellent account of how the committee organizing led to the results: a campus shut down all day with the active collaboration of rank and file workers.  Key sections of the piece focus on the nature of the strike committee and events on March 4th.

On the necessity of the strike committee:

“Though there was a lot of work to come, those few students had already come further than students on many other campuses would come, because they had an organizing body dedicated to building a strike.  This was an incalculably essential development.  If the organizing effort had stayed in coalition spaces or open general assemblies, the strike would not have become what it was.  The meetings of the strike committee were open and democratic, however the committee did not waste a whole lot of time with anything that wouldn’t build for the strike on march 4th.  Though the original call for the day had been for a Strike and Day of Action, it was the strike committee’s firm orientation towards building a strike and nothing else that made the Santa Cruz action what it was. The strike committee was  constantly presented with opportunities to lose that focus, from faculty telling us that going to Sacramento was the only non-elitist action, to students arguing for ending the strike line to march downtown for a community rally.  The phrase, “That sounds awesome, but this space is for building a strike on march 4th,” came up again and again, illustrating neatly the importance of having that space.  In the Santa Cruz context, it was essential that the committee eliminate the “and day of action” clause from our organizing space, and focus only on the building of the most powerful strike we could build.”

The committee, enabled by this focus, was able to channel its energy into outreach and building relationships with campus workers.  Eventually the strike committee, due to its democratic structure and ability to get things done, replaced the general assemblies as the central campus organizing zone.  The relationships with workers paid off when the committee was told by campus workers that “All we need is to be able to truthfully tell our bosses that we could not physically get to work, and we’re good.  It has to be true, because they’ll be watching us, but that’s all we need.”  This formed the basis by which the committee, leading to March 4th being a day where no work occurred on campus without any risk to the jobs of workers; in fact many got paid for a day of work even when they returned to join the picket line!

But in order for workers to have this opportunity, the students had to shut the campus down.  On March 4th students blocked campus entrances from both foot and vehicle traffic, continuing in spite of injuries to activists from reactionary drivers attempting to ram through the blockade.  Organizers let emergency vehicles and local residents through but turned all others around. Such ability to closely organize a mass militant action was rooted in the common purpose established by the strike committee; this situation should be contrasted to SFSU, where confusion and centrism reigned because strike was never made the basis for coalition organizing.  UCSC also differed from UC Berkeley’ due to the political identity of the march 4th bodies. Santa Cruz built a strike committee that was focused not abstract actions but a concrete strike at UC Santa Cruz. UC Berkeley’s March 4th committee saw itself as a legislative bodies that could make and accept proposals, facilitate organizing of other bodies, but lacked a cohesive outreach plan for the building a shut-down strike action. This was prevalent in the committee’s weakness in outreach to the students and workers on campus.

The “Strike and day of action” formulation was proposed and widely accepted at the 10/24 conference in order to make it accessible for unions to take action, with the assumption that the unions taking action would mean workers taking action.  The reality at Santa Cruz, quite the opposite of this, was that student organizers related directly to rank-and-file workers and bypassed union bureaucracies.  This is a key characteristic of a genuine class struggle left orientation and practice.  As such, it became the single example of an institution-wide strike across California on March 4th.  It was not only the form of the committee but rather the political content and strategy they employed.  By relating directly to the rank-and-file through the March 4th strike committee, the balance of forces was effectively polarized in such a way that union leaders from the UAW followed the lead of the strike committee and provided some material support for the strike.

VI. UC Davis

At UC Davis a coalition sprung up for March 4th 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.

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:

IX. Conclusion

Proletarian revolutions . . . constantly criticize themselves, constantly interrupt themselves in their own course, return to the apparently accomplished, in order to begin anew; they deride with cruel thoroughness the half-measures, weaknesses, and paltriness of their first attempts, seem to throw down their opponents only so the latter may draw new strength from the earth and rise before them again more gigantic than ever, recoil constantly from the indefinite colossalness of their own goals – until a situation is created which makes all turning back impossible, and the conditions themselves call out:

Hic Rhodus, hic salta!
[Here is the rose, dance here!]

– 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.

X Appendix

  1. a. Cañada Community College, Redwood City

At Cañada College around 250 students walked out of class at 10:00 am on March 4th. Students and faculty gathered in the center of campus where they chanted “They say cut back – we say fight back” and opened up the mic to students and teachers.  They collectively signed our names to a list of demands that were local in nature, including demands for no cuts to EOPS, ESL, counseling, janitorial and building and grounds staff, and other demands that are relevant to the decisions of our administration and board of trustees.  The crowd proceeded to enter the administration office, where the president had already come outside to undercut a potential sit in.  A student read and delivered the list of demands to the president, then the crowd marched down the road to the campus entrance where members of Carpenters Local 217 were handing out flyers with information about some scabbing going on in a building project on campus (the interior and finish carpentry for the project had been contracted out to a non-union firm from Sacramento.)  The crowd stayed at the entrance of campus for about 20 minutes, slowly proceeding across the street and back, and then left to go to the 3pm march in the Mission District.

  1. b. UC Berkeley and the March to Oakland

In the early hours of March 4th, the levels of uncertainty and anxiety were running high for those UC Berkeley students, faculty, workers and community members that had spent countless hours of their lives preparing for this day.  Each hoped that all their hard work and planning would pay off on this historic day, where people from all over the state would come together to fight against the privatization of public education.  Many arrived in good spirits at 7:00am and quickly began to amass at the campus entrances: Sather Gate, North Gate and West Gate.  A “people of color and allies” picket line was formed at Sather Gate, the main entrance, while the other students, graduate students and union members picketed at the North and West Gates.  Although the porous nature of the perimeter made shutting down the campus almost impossible, energy levels remained high at each entrance.  By 9:30 the entrance at Sather Gate was completely sealed off, forcing any student that wanted to get around to jump over the creek or go the long way.  The militant nature of this gate would only increase as picketers dug in and stood their ground as a barrage of angry students tried to force their way through the line.  This well fortified picket line with its creative chants, songs, and satirical skits illustrated to people the movement’s collective power, galvanizing participants.

At 11:45 each picket line converged at Sather Gate and moved forward in one block towards the intersection of Bancroft and Telegraph for the planned rally.  About 1500 people amassed around a truck to hear the different speakers, in a scene very reminiscent of Mario Savio’s speech atop the cop car.  The speakers moved very quickly and by 12:45 people began marching down Telegraph towards their meet-up in downtown Oakland to with other area schools.

There was a strong sense of solidarity among the thousand that marched down Telegraph.  Banners, puppets, blaring music and chants created a celebratory environment where people talked, danced and sang as they moved forward united.  This massive spectacle drew waves and cheers from local community members who came out of their houses to see what was going on.  In a particularly powerful moment the march stopped at Willard Middle School in Berkeley and chanted for students to join in.  Young middle-schoolers and some teachers poured out and joined the march chanting loudly, “Save our schools!”  The energy level stayed high as more people joined along the march’s 4.5-mile route.  About a mile and a half away from the destination at Frank Ogawa Plaza a massive banner that read “Fight Back” was draped over a billboard; the last stretch was a burst of energy.   The march arrived at Ogawa Plaza, Downtown Oakland at 3:20 pm to massive and yells from Oakland students, teachers, workers and community members that had been at the rally for hours.  Unity and solidarity in practice here showed how powerful people united in struggle can be.

c. Youth Lead in Oakland: High Schools, Laney College and UC Berkeley converge

Though the teachers did not strike, students self-organized walkouts, primarily in East Oakland.  About 100 students from Fremont High walked out at 9am and marched down foothill to 35th Ave where they marched up to Life Academy and were joined by another 75-100 students who marched out after the Fremont students stood outside chanting.  The group then marched down to the Fruitvale BART and tried to get Arise high school students to join them.  The ARISE students were staring out the window as the students outside chanted “let them out! let them out!” but the Arise principal locked the door and blocked it with his body.  The students rallied outside for 45min and were then joined by Arise students.  The group then marched down E.14th towards downtown, where they got a lot of sympathetic honks and marched passed 2 elementary schools with teachers and students that were rallying outside.  As the march passed the lake and approached the library the march of Laney College/Envision high school students came into sight and both marches excitedly met each other and merged into one and continued on to Frank Ogawa Plaza.

Laney College, a working class community college placed in center Oakland, started with a rally at eleven a.m. Hundreds of students and faculty assembled with a long list of speakers. Impatience grew and a break away march entered the financial aid center to demand better services. The demonstration lasted about ten minutes, but their presence was made clear to the Laney staff, it was also clear to those on the quad stage that it was time to march. Hundreds of Laney students, some say 400, started marching and coincidently merged with Freemont High students that walked over 45 blocks to get downtown (Frank Ogawa Plaza). During the march you could witness the energy of the people participation, their loud voices projecting echoes that bounce from building to building and making people’s heads turn. As the march arrived at Frank Ogawa Plaza, they were warmly welcomed by the emerging rally.

Nearly 1,000 Oakland high schoolers, largely Black and Latino, walked out of their schools without any fighting. The rally, organized in a bottom up way, made it so mainly youth spoke at the rally politicizing and electrifying other Oakland youth.  The young speakers, using Oakland lingo, were able to make very strong connections how defunding schools leads to Black and Brown youth being criminalized and imprisoned.

Berkeley marched down to Oakland with about 1,500 participants and when the two crowds met, the energy exploded, the unified crowds bursted in positive social movement energy. The next speaker talked about how Oaklanders should be proud of the fact that Oakland is the place of the very last general strike in American history in 1946, and twenty years later the Black Panthers were born out of the same city.


The day of March 4th started at City College San Francisco with the flyering, chalking and agitation of the student body by various student organizers.  A small contingent went into various buildings with bull horns and chants to agitate the students of CCSF. A rally then happened at 12pm.  Legendary veteran activist Diamond Dave and others brought free food and there was some music playing. There were many speakers of different political perspectives- some calling for a bus trip to Sac and some calling for a strike of the working class. Unfortunately, the location, which was the outside amphitheater, created a situation where a lot of people were merely sitting and watching the “festivities” of speakers, bands/drummers and free food. Some said the rally took on somewhat of a festival feel- but not in a good way.  After the rally students proceeded to march around campus and into various buildings. This was the most exciting part of the CCSF activities because it disrupted the everyday activities being carried out inside the buildings and further agitated the student body. In the end a CCSF official and some others offered to pay for everyone that did not have a fastpass. The crowd got on the BART and went to 24th/mission where they joined the larger march to civic center.

66 responses to “Crisis and Consciousness: Reflections and Lessons from March 4th

  1. Thank you for this detailed analysis.

  2. Could you elaborate on the sort of organizational structure you see as a precondition for the emergence of the “class struggle left”?
    since your argument seems to focus on the necessity of some sort of political infrastructure capable of long term base building.

  3. “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.”

    This is an excellent point and an excellent critique on the March 4 events as well as the student movement up to this point. On my own campus I’ve seen an aversion to discussing the possibility of strike actions on the part of the working class. I think this has something to do with the movement falling in line with the trade union bureaucrats on my campus and I see others as well. It’s sickening because the most direct power that the working class has is its ability to immediately affect production; this power is probably why it’s the first thing negotiated awa-y by our esteemed “representatives” in the Union halls.

  4. Amazing… thanks for the analysis and work on this! I loved learning about (and seeing!) what went down Seattle, and hearing about S. Africa – this is a worldwide struggle, and it’s only gaining power!!!

  5. “The reality at Santa Cruz…was that student organizers related directly to rank-and-file workers and bypassed union bureaucracies.”

    This is a one-sided formulation. The UCSC Strike Committee both reached out to rank-and-file workers AND worked with the official union leaderships, especially through the University Labor United (ULU) coalition. In AFSCME 3299, for example, the traditions of rank-and-file militancy and student-worker solidarity meant that we could go straight to the workers. But the workers in unions like UPTE and CUE probably wouldn’t have trusted student organizers if we hadn’t gone to their official leaderships first.

    I think this is a reality-based approach to the unions today: where rank-and-file networks or organizations exist, yes, we should clearly work with them. EDU in UESF is a good example of what’s possible in that regard. But those networks don’t exist in many places and we need a more nuanced approach to the labor leadership than the one you put forward.

    Overall, though, I thought this was a very useful article. Thanks.

    — James

  6. In this overly lengthy piece, one omission that clearly stands out for me revolves around the seeming search for one “right” way or best way for every situation, the magical silver bullet synthesis of tactics, almost entirely in the abstract without allowances for contemporary real-world dynamics and real-time decisions. For instance, it wasn’t simply great organization and planning at UCSC that led to their successful strike — basic geography in that the school has only two entrances played a key role. The fact that the students recognized and acted upon this “opportunity” is about as important as their organizing methods. That action was a good fit for the school. The same exact steely-eyed “focus” of organizers on a blockade/strike at another school simply would not work in the same way. Opportunities abound, in geography, in demographics, in space and time, and in momentum. Being able to recognize and seize those opportunities, create new momentum, reach out to new people, in creative ways in groups both large and small must be recognized as an important element in any revolutionary/insurrectionary schemes. I’d argue that it’s more crucial than debates about the pros and cons of the strategies of Trotskysists, Marxists, anarchists, and whatever New Left, old left, genuine class struggle left, represents the soup d’jour in ivory tower debates.

    • While it’s obviously true that practical differences in geography, momentum, space and time are crucial factors that influence any type of organizing, you seem to discount the material reality of consciousness as another crucial component of analysis in your schema of reaching out to new people, creating momentum, recognizing opportunities, etc.

      How do we reach out to people? How do we do this in creative ways? You ask good questions, but counterposing practical concerns related to specific institutions/areas against an analysis of pedagogical approaches towards consciousness is not useful. The answer to how to engage in creative organizing involves all of these elements, with consciousness being one of the most crucial.

      Dismissing an analysis of radical approaches towards doing so as somehow “academic” or from the ivory tower seems reductive, despite the good questions you also raise.

      • [Snarky comment]. There are solid examples here from both tendencies, quick, visible direct action and long-term coalition building. Both bring people out in different circumstances, and are contingent upon events. Nov. 20 at UC-Berkeley could not have happened without 9/24, the organizing conference and the campaigning on campus, in the same way that the simultaneous actions at UCLA did not happen in a vacuum from the efforts that preceded them.

    • It’s true that UCSC only has two main entrances, and that it was geographically easier to shut down than a lot of other schools might be. However, management at UCSC tried to get workers up to campus through many different entrances. (If you’re familiar with UCSC, you can get in through the Women’s Center, you can get in through Spring street if you walk through the park, you can go through the arboretum, you can come in through North Campus up Empire Grade, all of these entrances were attempted) On the morning of March 4th, worker’s were required to meet up off-campus, where they were put in vans and managers tried to sneak them onto campus around the strikers. Actually shutting down campus required students networking with workers ahead of time and setting up a system so workers could text students and get them to quickly move to wherever management was heading to next. Having the foresight and the relationships and the organizational capacity to carry this out definitely played a more important role than the geography. Building that required “steely-eyed focus” not just “seizing an opportunity”.

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  8. class struggle A

    Chapter 7 is missing. Is it the same as chapter 3? [Thanks]

  9. Comrades,

    Excellent analysis.

    Thanks for putting this out.


  10. The MC at the rally at oakland not only told people to not go on the march but told the highschoolers that they should be afraid of OPD . nice one for “advancing the struggle”

    Give me a break! As usual ATS has all the right answers to advancing the struggle. some humility please! but i guess we could all become ATS cadre and surely see the light…

    i’m assuming this isn’t gonna get published on the website but at least y’all be aware that there are organizers out there that see through your aggrandizing bullshit.

    [Moderator response: The piece addresses this criticism in the Oakland section. “The error we and other organizers made was to overcompensate in our move to avoid the Sept. 24th fiasco. Instead of encouraging people NOT to go on the march, we should have announced the freeway goal and encouraged anyone prepared to go!”

    The reality is, high school youth have minds of their own and are able to make decisions independent of one person’s recommendation to not go on a march. Youth know what police are capable due to their direct experiences and aren’t easily swayed by someone’s recommendations.

    One of the most important things to acknowledge is that clandestinely planned actions have a hierarchy of information, and in places like Oakland this hierarchy is expressed in age/race/and class terms. Knowing the type of action you’re involving yourself in is important, and we should all learn from these experiences and improve.]

    What’s interesting to note in this snarky comment is the logic about telling highschoolers to be afraid of the cops. The implication is that this put the fear into young people and kept them from joining the march onto the highway. This logic has a lot in common with the Nonprofiteers who label

    • real clever home boy. lets make some clarification, and look at where you are coming from, and no this is not a place for you to try recruit. you say that ya’ll (ATS) has all the answers; clearly you don’t! other wise every action that you try to convey would come to a failure. in other words, and if i may, you are the ones to clearly see the light. if you have any consideration, i suggest you think of politically enforced argument.

  11. Thanks for very interesting, thought-provoking piece. From a distance across the continent, it is hard to evaluate lots of particulars, but I’ve no need to – the key point to me is how the piece and the ensuing discussion raise important questions of goals, organization, strategy and tactics.

    One comment/question: the discussion almost entirely separates ‘student’ from ‘worker.’

    Certainly at many CA campuses as well as nationally, huge numbers of college students also work part time (or more) to survive in college – pay tuition, buy books, pay rent, eat, etc. That is, in this sense of worker, they are ‘also’ workers.

    But we should also grasp students are workers who are in a stage of producing themselves as new sorts of labor power, developing their qualifications as workers, perhaps for a more interesting job or one less onerous or to be paid more. Ignoring this ignores the question of reproduction as central to capital, and thus perpetuates deep theoretical and organizational problems in the ‘left.’ (I am not arguing that the class location of a student’s parents and home community is not relevant.)

    In short, students as workers in a dual sense. So I would be interested in your comments on this issue.

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  15. You write that UCSC represents the best tendencies of Left and adventurist organizing. I think that quite to the contrary, UCSC represents the best tendencies of Left and centrist organizing. Very few of the folks who most clearly exhibit what you (correctly) name adventurist tendencies participated in the UCSC March 4th organizing. In fact it was largely members of Trotskyist organizations that made UCSC M4 possible, as you mention. None of the important organizing occurred in closed, radical spaces, and the actions of the folks attempting to spark mass revolt with minority actions were at best negligible and at worst harmful.

  16. Excellent post! Thanks for the shout out and the outstanding, precise analysis.

    Your description of the arguments in California between class struggle leftists and centrists almost exactly predicted a debate we had last week in Seattle in the May 3rd strike committee. We are organizing for a May 3rd student strike and a possible UAW academic student employee strike (or a possible academic student employee wildcat if the union doesn’t officially endorse it.) We are building support among rank and file custodians and tradespeople not to cross the picket lines. The May 3rd UW Strike Committee is modeled after the March 4th Santa Cruz strike committee. Like you and the Santa Cruz folks advocate we are trying to keep its focus specifically and exclusively on building the strike to prevent it from degenerating into a clearinghouse for a variety of different actions. Some centrist Trotskyists in the strike committee argued that we should de-prioritize picket lines and should focus on a rally and day of action instead in order to “meet people where they are at” and claimed we were putting workers at risk. Worker militants in the meeting argued against them. Our comrades made many of the same arguments you raise here and we won the vote to maintain the focus of the day on militant picket lines. Many of us had read your piece and it really helped us do this. We read it collectively in a Democracy Insurgent (D.I.) study group this weekend and it prompted some great discussion and strategizing.

    I agree that class struggle left tendencies need to make sure we avoid getting subordinated to centrists in bureaucratic coalitions. However, to clarify, in Seattle Democracy Insurgent does participate in these kinds of coalitions with centrists. We don’t tell the centrists they need to leave formations like the Student Worker Coalition or the Strike Committee and we’re not calling actions independently of these formations though we assert our right to do so if we need to. But we are able to influence these formations in a class struggle direction because over the past year we’ve helped build two organizations that function as political centers for folks to develop as class struggle militants and these new militants animate the united front and function like a majority Left tendency within it. These groups are called For a Democratic University and International Workers and Students for justice.

    FADU is a rank and file academic student employee organization consisting mostly of members of UAW. IWSJ consists of students, off campus workers, and rank and file AFSCME/WFSE campus workers (custodians and tradespeople). These groups are independent of DI and larger than DI but DI members participate in them. They are politically open to a variety of tendencies but united around a focus on direct action, rank and file power, and independence from the union bureaucracy. Unlike DI they are more single-issue focused (DI takes up anti-imperialism, queer liberation, Palestine solidarity, etc. whereas IWSJ and FADU are focused particularly on specific labor struggles, but they prioritize bringing these struggles together in coalition, building multi-sector solidarity among different layers of the working class on campus. ) They are the primary place where folks new to the struggle develop as militants through strategizing, discussion, reflection, and organizing. It is IWSJ and FADU members who animate a lot of the Student Worker Coalition’s work and their weight in the Coalition prevent it from being dominated or controlled by centrists.

    We also just started a new group called Student Liberation Front which is growing and starting to take on a life of it’s own, focusing on undergraduate organizing. This is partly inspired by Student Unity and Power. SLF is multiracial but is reaching out to the rank and file members of the various identity based groups on campus.

    So yeah, I’m adding all of this to show that DI doesn’t deserve all the credit for what happened in Seattle it was a much broader layer of militants who we are in close contact with who made it happen.

    Thanks again for such a sharp piece. I hope to engage more thoroughly with the issues you raise when I have more time to write

  17. Hi AS Comrades and Everyone Else –

    Here’s the link to our pamphlet “The Lessons of March 4: A Marxist Analysis — A Response to Advance the Struggle.”

    We’re attaching the intro below.

    In unity and struggle,
    Socialist Organizer

    The Lessons of March 4: A Marxist Analysis

    A Response to Advance the Struggle


    The huge protests in defense of public education on March 4, 2010 were historic. March 4 was likely the largest action in defense of public education and social services in our nation’s history — and it was the first coordinated mass response to the economic crisis that has rocked the country since late 2007.

    What are the political, strategic and tactical lessons to be learned from the tremendous amount of grassroots organizing that made March 4 happen?

    In this article we will attempt to put forward a Marxist analysis of the lessons of March 4 by responding to “Crisis and Consciousness: Reflections and Lessons from March 4th” — a serious contribution by the Bay Area radical group Advance the Struggle (AS).

    We have decided to reply to AS’ piece not of out a spirit of sectarian leftist infighting, but in the spirit of open comradely discussion concerning the crucial question: what is the most effective revolutionary strategy to advance the consciousness, mobilization, and organization of the working class?

    It is precisely because we in Socialist Organizer believe that the comrades in Advance the Struggle are among the most dedicated and talented militants in the Bay Area that we felt it was necessary to reply to “Crisis and Consciousness,” which in our opinion, despite many merits, expresses some of the ultraleft errors prevalent among student radicals in California. As such, this piece is directed to the broader layer of youth and labor activists who, like the members AS and Socialist Organizer, have spent countless hours mobilizing and organizing in recent months and, through their hard work, helped to make March 4 possible.

    Read more at:

  18. Although I read S.O.’s piece with an open mind, and found myself appreciating some of the points made in the essay, I was generally troubled by its politics on a visceral level.

    I don’t claim to have any facility whatsoever in quoting theoreticians of days gone by, as the author of the S.O. piece clearly has. But I know how to smell trouble, and I smell it here.

    I think my first and deepest objection is to the idea of a hierarchical organization leading anything. To me, that’s pretty much a starting point for any conversation about social struggle. Some of us are going to be forever opposed to the idea that anyone is going to lead us to the Promised Land and govern us (“dictatorship of the proletariat” or otherwise.) But SO and others ( like ISO and Speak Out) are more than comfortable with the idea of hierarchical organizing, and no matter how much they claim the mantle of “bottom up” organizing, this one fact negates their claims. Tendencies (as opposed to organizations) such as Advance the Struggle seem to me to be starting from another position entirely: skeptical of authority and hierarchy, concerned with exploring methods of struggle that side-step hierarchical goals and visions, and not involved in the logic of recruitment and organizational conservation. I’m not claiming that people in A/S would call themselves anarchists (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) or anything else. It’s just that what I read from A/S seems to be infused with a healthy dose of anti-authoritarianism, and when I read the Trot stuff, I keep running into leaders and vanguards and the “advanced” and all the rest of this stuff that tells me they see themselves as above and in front of everyone else. I can’t help but think, “God help us if they ever take power.” And I’m an atheist!

    Another thing that rubs me the wrong way is the way “the working class” gets objectified in the S.O. essay (and in many other places.) I don’t understand – and I distrust – people engaged in struggle not being entirely “in it.” The S.O. piece sounds like it describes a way to enter in to struggles from the outside in order to corral the struggle into a pre-conceived scheme. Part of this is the way the essayist claims to have some kind of authority when it comes to understanding where “people are at,” and what people are ready for. That’s a huge claim to make, and a really disingenuous one, in my opinion. We’re people – what are WE ready for? What do WE want to argue for and advance in our lives and the struggles we take up alongside our sisters and brothers? I have no idea where everybody else is at, but I can get some kind of an idea about what’s possible when I exchange ideas with the people I work and live and study with. I sure don’t think that the tender sensibilities of the “working class” (in my experience, just about everyone I know, work with, study with, and love in my life) will be wounded by proposals of illegal strikes and occupations. At the end of the day, it might not happen or be as “successful” as some of us might hope, but there’s a place for making the argument for it in the strongest possible terms, and for arguing against “following orders” – anyone’s orders.

    The last point I want to make is that this argument over the student/worker divide is so wretched. Can we stop it already? I don’t see too many captains of industry on my campus, just a lot of people who will have to sell their labor power for the rest of their lives, just like me and my husband and our kids. Struggles erupt wherever people face attack, and we’re facing it on all fronts. There is no safe place away from it.

    There’s a saying that if you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting, and I have to say that for all the decades of planning and executing rallies and marches, to say nothing of infiltrating union hierarchies and labor councils, we’re not getting much. I’m glad and encouraged by the fact that A/S, along with others, are trying to stretch the boundaries of imagination and possibility.

    • I think that your assertion that “SO and others ( like ISO and Speak Out) are more than comfortable with the idea of hierarchical organizing, and no matter how much they claim the mantle of “bottom up” organizing, this one fact negates their claims.” is somewhat misplaced. I think at most you can speak of your personal experiences, and I can speak of mine. UCSC’s Strike Committee wasn’t hierarchical, and SO and the ISO were very involved. As aufzuheben mentions above, “it was largely members of Trotskyist organizations that made UCSC M4 possible”. Our strike committee was an open, democratic group with no formal leadership. The most that could be said is that there were bottomliners, meaning people that were responsible for making sure a particular thing got done. But then, I can only speak of my experiences and have no first-hand knowledge of what happened elsewhere. Secondly, I don’t know that you can say that these Trotskyist orgs are “more than comfortable with the idea of hierarchical organizing” without actually being part of one of these organizations. You criticize the writer of the SO piece for being “some kind of authority when it comes to understanding where “people are at,” yet you yourself make that same claim about these orgs. You may say that the writings and statements that come from these orgs are indicative of their comfortableness with hierarchical organizing, to which I would ask to see some actual evidence of this. You may also say that the way these orgs act is indicative, yet I have already shown that in the case of UCSC, which had a great deal of influence from some of these orgs, that that wasn’t the case. To this end I will say that the comfortableness of these orgs with “hierarchical organizing” is by no means a fact. And, therefore, it cannot negate their claims of “bottom-up” organizing.

  19. Damn, Mamos and Katy hold it down like normal. I’m glad SO wrote such a thorough and carefully crafted response to our piece, it’s a great representation of the Trot/centrist perspective! 😉 Definitely some food for thought, especially the question of how much the Transitional Program and other strategic writings apply today. Some main differences between AS and Trots (in general? at least the ones we interact with a lot) center around how much to treat the classic Marxist texts as playbooks to pull from vs. case studies of how to analyze the objective situation and develop tactics to respond to it.

    Mamos, definitely keep reporting back on the work y’all are doing up there whenever you can. The UW nexus is a great example of the best sorts of organizational forms for the current moment, pushing struggle forward in an accessible, pedagogical and definitely not ultra-left way.

    Katy, I had a very similar reaction to the SO piece, both appreciating some points that it made and having a lot of reservations. I think that a big step forward is for people like you (Katy), us and other sympathetic tendencies to take our negative intuition about this sort of line to the next level by formulating a serious, but not sectarian, critique/analysis of Trotskyism. Not to persuade our comrades to break with their organizations, but for us to understand better how to parse out the partial truth from the centrism.

    This made me laugh: “There’s a saying that if you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting, and I have to say that for all the decades of planning and executing rallies and marches, to say nothing of infiltrating union hierarchies and labor councils, we’re not getting much.” Stretching the boundaries of imagination and possibility is just what’s needed now Katy, and you and Mamos show that it’s not just AS who’s interested in doing that.

  20. I strongly recommend that readers of this blog take a look at and engage with Socialist Organizer’s response to Advance the Struggle. I don’t agree with every single thing in there, but it’s a very welcome contribution to the debate.

    The responses from Katy and “The Fish” strike me as very shallow. It’s all very well to say “we’re doing something new; you all are old fashioned and obsessed with dead Russians.” But SO have actually made some substantive criticisms of both the factual accuracy and theoretical rigor of the AS analysis. Do you have anything to say to those points?

    It seems to me that, far from being a strength, the seeming reluctance to engage with the history of the revolutionary movement is actually one of the main weaknesses of AS.

    In the spirit of shameless self-promotion, I’m going to link to my own response to the AS coverage of M4 at UCSC:

    — James

  21. Hi Katy,
    I think, if you are Katy the activist from the SMCCD that I know…you know that both ISO and SO, active at Skyline CC did not develop any sort of ‘hierarchical’ organizing as you suggest. Both groups worked, along with a member of FRSO, another socialist group, in developing what was a rank-and-file staff and student committee to organize March 4th. We participated with the group at Cañada CC in confronting the CC District over their proposed adaptation to the state funding we receive.

    I think the charge around the type of organizing you suggest is simply unfounded.

    The SO piece, specifically, was responding to the the AS’s thesis, which included references to ‘revolutionaries’ and ‘Marxists’, and thus the response by SO was something done ‘in kind’, and, I think, not unimportantly, in a comradely manner. The AS piece was an attempt at placing an analysis of March4th in a Marxist paradigm, at least from the point of view of analysis.

    I am hoping AS itself responds to both the SO analysis and the points raised by supporters of ISO on this list. This is a good discussion.


  22. Check out the counter anti-centrist argument by Gathering Forces. I cant wait for AtS to respond to to SO and ISO. These are some of the best debates the left has had in years.

    Thanks for all this food for thought. I just stated being an activist and was active in March 4th in SF. Reading all this gives me more anaylisis.


    FYI this piece by grad student at UCB very active in the occupationist currents. He’s well versed in Marxist political economy as his analysis of the economic crisis shows, in the vain of Loren Goldner and is versed in the autonomous Marxist tradition in Europe. I don’t have that much disagreement with this analysis.

    But of course it’s the conclusion of what is to be done…”destroy it all and start from scratch” and the notion that defending public education, laid-off workers and the old social democratic agreements of the past is basically conservative given the economic and political crisis we face. No sense that winning some small victories, however reformist, can build the confidence of the class. This is seen as a dead end given the bigger picture that our society under this current regime of capital has absolutely no place for social democracy…that these types of projects are a zero sum game. I don’t want to say occupationist folks haven’t organized with workers, many have…and many have a healthier outlook on the capacity of workers and students to be self-managing than the “centrists” as the A/S article suggests.

    The piece also discuss the supposed conflicts of interest in student/worker formation in terms of each groups’ relation to the campus per an analysis of political economy. This is important to consider via tactics and also program and philosophy.

    Per philosophical and organizational foundations of his article, and the theory and organizing of the occupationist tendencies look no further than his citation for Debord’s “Society of the Spectacle.”

    I think this is a strong piece representing the strengths and weaknesses of the occupationist strand of organizing in the anti-budget cuts movement. It is important to study given the success this tendency in the anti-budget movement has had to win over numbers of students who were liberals per Sep 24th and then a few months later are occupying buildings. Does this mean they have a mastery of political economy or thinkers like Debord? Many do not but it’s the success occupationists have had per being more organized per getting out philosophies on the web and literature, having meetings among their folks that can more quickly agree to plans of action…unlike the bureaucratic grind of “centrist” philosophies that suggest large layers of liberal-minded students and the union bureaucracy (never really a large core of rank-and-file workers) need to agree before anything can happen. It’s this action orientation that is exciting young folks and gets them involved for they, like many workers not usually involved in activism, are looking for something tangible and invigorating from jump, not endless meetings. This is not to say meetings (open if possible) and organization are not needed (it’s crucial) but its the extent organized spontaneity and trust in students and workers to be leaders and to self-organize that is needed to move the anti-budget cuts movement forward. And this will come from continued teaching and pedagogy as the A/S article suggests of a certain kind, rooted in an analysis of political economy that centers everyday students and workers, with all their strengths and contradictions, as the central figures capable of making the class struggle. The reliance of centrists to prop up progressive official society as our best hope, be it student government, politicians, or even activist-mind union bureaucrats which we have a few at Berkeley, is a dead-end which this article does agree with I believe.

    Again a strong piece representing the occupationist currents that gives food for thought.

  24. Pingback: Public Education in California: What’s Next After March 4? « UCSC (Grad) Student Organizing Committee


    “Without a socialist revolution, in the next historical period at that, a catastrophe threatens the whole culture of mankind. The turn is now to the proletariat, i.e., chiefly to its revolutionary vanguard. The historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of the revolutionary leadership.”

    — Leon Trotsky, from “The Transitional Program” (1938)

    “The formal organization – how many workers organized into unions and parties, how many subscriptions to the newspapers, how many political candidates nominated and elected, how much money collected for dues and so forth – is not the heart of the question of the organization of the working class.”

    — George Rawick, from the essay “Working-Class Self-Activity” (1969)

    “Thus we see, through the ebbs and flows of the struggles… the progressive deflation of a consciousness we have traced from German Social Democracy and its populist world view. The experience of the CIO, and the struggle against the emerging trade union bureaucracy of the 1936-1945 period, taken over by various Trotskyist currents, in the international context of the Popular Front and ‘socialism in one country,’ imposed on the extreme-left opposition to the hegemonic Stalinist and Social Democratic tendencies the problematic of bureaucracy. The extreme-left response to bureaucracy was democracy, i.e. workers’ control of production. But as Barrot [Jean Barrot, ‘Critique de l’Ideologie de l’Ultra-Gauche: Lenine et l’Ultra-Gauche’ in his book Communisme et Question Russe, Paris 1972] put it quite well… the opposition ‘bureaucracy/democracy’ turns the whole question of program into a simplistic question of “forms of organization.” The anti-bureaucratic American and West European extreme left of the 1968-1973 period was thus in agreement with the dominant bureaucratic tendencies in making social revolution into a question, not of content, that is of what must be emancipated from the dominant social relations — but of forms of organization, the old populist question of power separated from its more general conditions of existence.”

    — Loren Goldner, from the essay “The Remaking of the American Working Class” (1999 version)

    The quotes above frame the debate as:

    Organization as the sole conduit for revolutionary activity


    Consciousness as arising from action, organically giving an organizational form appropriate to the content of the struggle (perhaps best expressed in Rosa Luxemburg’s excellent “The Mass Strike)



    Vulgar Marxist pre-Kantian materialism (both Social Democracy and Bolshevism share these common roots and are the historic link between enlightened absolutism in the 17th century and sectarian vanguard parties today)


    Dialectical Marxist theories of class consciousness and critique developed through the influence of “Hegelian fingerprints,” (i.e. 1844 Manuscripts, the Grundrisse, the “missing” 6th Chapter of Capital called “Results of the Immediate Process of Production” [detailing the transformation from “formal” to “real” domination], the “Theses on Feuerbach,” and those in this tradition like Georg Lukacs, Karl Korsch, CLR James, Guy Debord, Jean Barrot (a.k.a. Gilles Dauve), Loren Goldner, the Insane Dialectical Posse, and hopefully Advance the Struggle)


    The formulations that “workers/students aren’t ready” for a strike are based on the former static analysis of social relations and consciousness, while articulations of the dialectical tension between what’s “permitted” in contradistinction with what’s “possible” are at the heart of the latter.

    We need to let our dialectical imaginations run free instead of slavish loyalty to off-the-shelf party lines, which at worst because sectarian dogma.

    As the insurgents wrote on the walls of Paris in May 1968:


    Proudly Ultra-Left, Adventurous, and Infantile,


  26. Pedagogy defined by Ira Shor:

    “Habits of thought, reading, writing, and speaking which go beneath surface meaning, first impressions, dominant myths, official pronouncements, traditional clichés, received wisdom, and mere opinions, to understand the deep meaning, root causes, social context, ideology, and personal consequences of any action, event, object, process, organization, experience, text, subject matter, policy, mass media, or discourse.” (from “Empowering Education,” 129)

    In sum, going beyond the appearance in a process of self-discovery to find the essence.

    Paulo Freire critiqued what he called the “banking model” of education where the teacher was the reservoir of knowledge and the student the empty vessel. The student’s pre-existing knowledge or wisdom was of no matter.

    In politics the banking model would be sectarian parties putting forward the “correct” tactics and strategies as though they were the vanguard of truth. Which is the antithesis of being dialectical!


    As for adventurist actions of the ultra-left, here are some of my favorite examples from the last 170 years:

    -1830 Revolution in Europe
    -Chartists and Luddites in England in the mid-19th century
    -Revolution of February, the journées of March, April and May and the June insurrection of 1848 in Paris; March Revolution in Baden, Vienna Austria, Berlin, Saxony and Bavaria
    -1871 Paris Commune
    -1905 Petrograd Soviet
    -1917 soviets and factory committees throughout Russia
    -Late January-early February 1918 strike wave in Austria (beginning in the industrial environs of Vienna spreading outward to Lower Austria, Styria, Upper Austria, Tyrol, and the industrial suburbs of Brno, the Moravian capital); in Hungary, a strike wave developed and paralyzing Budapest; in Bohemia Kladno miners struck; in late January, war weariness, food shortages and the annexationist demands of the German imperialists’ high command summoned forth a savagely repressed strike in Berlin (spreading to Mannheim, Danzig, München and Köln before repression took hold), a political strike against German militarism, the war and for peace; at precisely the same moment in Britain, on the Clyde and in Sheffield but also in Barrow, Coventry, Erith, London, and Woolwich, workers nearly pulled off a general strike against the imperialist world war
    -January 1919 uprising in Berlin based on the metalworking proletariat (which cost Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht their lives), that adventurous putsch known as the March Action (1921)
    -Occupation of the factories by Italian metalworkers in September 1920
    -The revolutionary situation beginning in August 1923 with a general strike in Berlin and ending with the Hamburg insurrection in late October
    -Great strike of 1926 in Britain of mineworkers
    -January 1925 strikes in Japanese textile mills, the months long general strike by the industrial and port proletariats of Canton beginning in June of that year, the wave of strikes in early 1926 up and down coastal China
    -1926 strikes in in-land industrial Wuhan, the general strike and insurrection of March 1927 in Shanghai, and the insurrection of December 1927 in Canton, on all of which the communes of Canton and Shanghai rested (1927)
    -First wave of strikes in autos, glass, rubber in steel in the USA (1933-1934) and the extraordinarily huge sitdowns beginning in auto (1937-1938)
    -Defeat of the generals’ revolt in July 1936, the defense of Madrid (December 1936), the May Days in Barcelona (1937)
    1945-1946 strike waves that sweep France, Italy and the U.S. in the aftermath of the last imperialist world war
    -Hungarian Revolution (1956)
    -May 1968 in France
    -“Hot autumn” of 1969 in Italy
    -Cordones in Chile (late summer-autumn 1973)
    -1987 Great Strike in South Korea with 3,749 work stoppages from June to September
    -1989 spontaneous strike wave across China sparked by Tienanmen Square protests in Beijing
    -Wave of strikes by textile and electronic assembly workers that rolled over the export processing zone of Saigon in January-February 2006
    -May Day 2006 general strike of Latino workers across the U.S.
    -Massive, riotous strike upsurge by the Dhaka, Bangladesh garment and rail proletariat in July and, in particular, September-October of 2007

    (many of these thanks to Will Barnes )

    • Come on bro, adventurist doesn’t mean anyone who does anything good. Paris Commune = adventurist is pretty goofy.

  27. David Walters

    Hieronymous, have you ever been on a workers strike? Say one for higher wages or in defense of existing conditions? You are *projecting* in the best of idealist fashion what “you’d like” over what is. Workers and people only move when they feel ready to do so or are forced to do so by intolerable conditions. At any rate *they* move, not because you or I or anyone else tells them to. This was the case in everyone of the instances you cited and in answer to the comment above that one.

    You really don’t poise the big “what is to be done?” haven’t really responded to the critiques of the AtS position here or for that matter the AtS position itself which demands respect and an answer.

    The point is to bring as many people into motion as possible against those that are attacking them. The best way to do that is to *mobilize* them based on *their* expressed desires (where they are AT) and needs not on YOURS or MINE. We can help as part of this movement and propose ideas and actions which enhance them. It is through these activities that heightened political consciousness grows. Everything else is just, as the Rabbi noted, ‘commentary’.


  28. Cadre Dave wrote:

    “Hieronymous, have you ever been on a workers strike? Say one for higher wages or in defense of existing conditions?”

    Glad you asked. The answer is yes. But let me explain.

    First I must relate how at the March 13th Town Hall Meeting of the San Francisco March 4th Strike Committee, a cadre of the ISO who’d been teaching at Mission High for many years said: “It’s taken me 7 of 8 years of building to even have a teach-in on March 4th.” And he uncritically declared that a “victory.” That’s what “meeting people where they’re at” will get you.

    On the block behind where we had the meeting at 522 Valenica, there used to be Albion Hall. In 1933, with unemployment at its historic high of 24.9%, Wobblies, Communists and other radical maritime workers met there to plan direct action on the docks, like work-to-rule, slowdowns, quickie strikes and sabotage. Within a year, they were at the center of the 83-day West Coast Maritime Strike and when on July 5, 1934 the National Guard and SF cops tried to open the port by force, Howard Sperry and Nick Bordoise were murdered. The anger from the killings on Bloody Thursday led to the successful 4-day San Francisco General Strike. A perfect example of NOT meeting people where they’re at, but instead pushing them to where they’re willing and capable of going. Or to paraphrase Rosa Luxemburg, “learning to fight by fighting.”

    My personal strike story has a similar trajectory. I started working at an ESL school in SF’s Outer Richmond in early 2007. Management had taken away healthcare in 2005, with the promise of its return when enrollment returned to pre-9/11 levels. When I was hired in early 2007 I was given the same promise. A simple scan of the school roster showed that enrollment was well above the pre-2001 levels. On December 21, 2007 we informally demanded the return of health care. Management balked. We started researching and meeting weekly. By March 17, 2008 we launched into an indefinite strike, demanding the return of healthcare and a 30% across-the-board raise (since there had been no cost-of-living increase in over 12 years). There were 11 teachers, and 7 of us struck, 2 honored the picket line, and 2 scabbed. The school had something like 170 students and less than 10 crossed our pickets. It lasted a week and we lost when 2 of the core strikers quit out of disgust because management called the police 3 times in the last 2 days of the strike as part of their strategy to try to intimidate us based on groundless accusation of violence (for merely heckling scabs). I was the only one who attempted to return to work, but was “replaced” under NRLB rules. I was fortunate and collected unemployment for a year.

    Word got out to other ESL schools by word-of-mouth and after we did an interview on KPOO. Other schools, facing similar conditions, consulted with us about striking. We had a crosstown organizing meeting with 15 people from 5 different schools. 2 national chains, Kaplan and Aspect, had merged and combined their ESL schools. They lowered teachers’ wages to the lowest of the 2. The teachers there formed a rank-and-file committee and through researching ways to fight, settled on an “inside strategy” of confronting management while at work as well using the enforcement mechanisms of the NLRB and California Department of Labor’s Labor Standards Enforcement. They linked up with East Coast schools in the chains to coordinate their fight. They won a settlement, but management balked and they found a labor lawyer who worked pro-bono and settled a multimillion dollar nationwide agreement. Teachers at the SF schools got several thousand dollars each in backpay. I recently ran into one of the teachers who gloated “we can do whatever we want because management it too scared to fuck with us!”

    All these struggles were in a sector that has never been union organized. There were NO sectarian party hacks telling people they “aren’t ready” to fight. They were rank-and-file initiatives that drew on working class people’s intelligence, imagination and instinctive militancy. In action, we broke down the us/them dichotomy of “meeting workers where they’re at” because we ARE workers and we dialectically and organically created organizational forms appropriate to the content of our struggles.

    We didn’t slavishly read what Lenin wrote in 1920, when there were 180,000,000 people in the Soviet Union, but only 7 or 8,000,000 industrial workers. What worked in a largely peasant-based society, where social relations we in many cases pre-capitalist (meaning even pre-formal domination where not even absolute surplus value was being extracted), WON’T work in a post-industrial consumer and service industry based society like ours.

    Being a revolutionary today and using the writings of Lenin and the actions of the Bolsheviks as trans-historical truth , as though Taylorism, Fordism, Keynesianism and neo-liberalism had never occurred, is like being a Christian and living by the gospel of the Old Testament and either denying or pretending that the New Testament and the Reformation had never happened. Read Herman Gorter’s “Open Letter to Comrade Lenin” to see the latter’s “’Left-Wing Communism,’ An Infantile Disorder” dialectically ripped to shreds (available here: )

    I haven’t published many accounts of the strike I participated in because while it was happening our boss was calling other ESL schools in SF and trying to create an informal blacklist. But our close comrades in the News & Letters groups did an interview, available here:

    Also, the Labor Video Project produced a 22-minute documentary of the strike which aired on SF public access television. If anyone is interested, I could burn them a DVD copy. It’s truly inspiring to see how 95% of students honored the picket line and can be seen making speeches with declarations of solidarity in Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish and Thai.

    The working class is ready to fight the class war, it’s just that we’ve got to ignore the defeatist and dogmatic slogans of the sectarian left, trade unions and liberals. They end up parroting bourgeois ideas that there-is-no-alternative and “workers aren’t ready to fight.” And workers aren’t some external “other,” we are the workers and WE ARE READY!

    For Working Class Power,


    PS to The Dog, please explain how the initial spontaneous mutiny, seizure of the cannons, and execution of General Thomas at Montmartre wasn’t adventurist or ultra-left by a centrist/vanguardist definition.

  29. I almost forgot, at the top of Montmartre on March 18, 1871, the insurgents also shot the commander of the cannons there, General Lecomte, after he had ordered soldiers to fire into the mutinous crowd.

    By all accounts, the spontaneity of the insurrection even took the head of government, Thiers, by surprise and drove him to flee to Versailles.

  30. Ok, Hieronymous, that’s a nice list, but you’re getting yourself a bit mixed up. Most of the events you list have almost nothing in common with the sort of adventurist actions critiqued on this blog and in other places. How can you file the Petrograd Soviet of 1905, for example, which was the outgrowth of a general strike involving hundreds of thousands of workers, alongside a building occupation involving 20, 50, or even 200 people? How is that a useful comparison? It’s not.

    Furthermore, you’re conflating spontaneity and adventurism. They’re completely different things. None of the building occupations last fall were “spontaneous”–almost all of them were planned, often in secret, by small groups of students.

    Finally, you can sneer at the organizing in Mission High School if you like, but it was a vital part of the Mission District walk-out, march, and rally by 5,000 teachers, students, parents, and community members–one of the largest and most militant mass actions on March 4.

  31. First, all of the actions I listed came out of industrial production. If you read the Gorter piece I linked to or peruse Will Barnes website, you’ll see that we agree that consciousness comes out of a tacit understanding by us workers of our place in the production process. And those that I listed were rank-and-file revolts, even Petrograd in 1905, where the social democratic parties and trade unions were tail-ending the actions of the class.

    They were the kind of actions labeled “premature,” “adventurous,” and yes even “ultra-left” by those advocating top-down decision making by hierarchical authoritarian vanguard organizations (as Katy pointed out above).

    I’ll borrow from Barnes to explain Lenin’s error regarding this:

    “… there’s Lenin’s only explicit theorization (1902). What do we know about this conceptualization? Three features stand out: (a) Class consciousness is not only not achieved at the point of production, the proletariat cannot become conscious of itself as a class. Like many other classes and strata in history, it is merely capable of “revolt,” not of the revolutionary “prise de conscience” and independent political action reshaping society; (b) since left to themselves workers as a class will conduct their struggles economistically, for them to act in a manner consistent with their historical interests, consciousness must inculcated from the outside by members of another class; and, (c) that consciousness is the product of the activity of members of that other class, bourgeois intellectuals (who develop socialist theory independently of the workers’ movement). It is only through the efforts of those revolutionary intellectuals that the proletariat will be organized to challenge capitalist society as a whole. In the past, I have called this the perspective of proletarian Jacobinism.”

    As Gorter pointed out, in a society like Russia before 1917 that had enormous sections of the population living in conditions that were essentially pre-capitalist, the methods of struggle are different from ones like Germany and England at the time that were were the most industrially advanced. So Barnes’ concept “proletarian Jacobinism” is an expression of the pre-Kant materialist ideas of enlightened absolutism, nearly identical to the Gotha Program promoted by the Lassalleans that Marx so vehemently polemicized against, adopted by the Bolsheviks.

    Please forgive me for the extremely long quote that follows, but I think Loren Goldner (here being interviewed by the South Korean group SaNoShin; his responses are marked by “LG”) gives a lucid account of this:

    SaNoShin: It’s question no. 9 on the paper, and you quoted Lenin’s “What is to be done?”, saying that on the title page of the first edition (Note: The quote disappeared from subsequent editions) Lenin quoted Lassalle, and you said it hints at purification.

    LG: Yes, “the party purifies itself by purging itself”. I think that was the quote. I think it’s very important that Lassalle was viewed as a precursor. At the 1924 congress of the Comintern, according to Max Eastman, there were three big pictures behind the speaker’s stand – Marx, Engels and Lassalle. I think it shows how Lassalle was viewed that late as a revolutionary who had contributed to the development of the working class movement. In fact it was Lassalle, not Lenin, who was the first person to argue that the revolutionary party should be a special military party of professional revolutionaries. And because Lassalle was eliminated from the revolutionary pantheon, starting in the mid 1920s, his great influence on the Russian movement is not widely appreciated. After the 1924 congress, it was at that time when they discovered the documents that showed that Lassalle had been meeting secretly with Bismarck. Again I’m not sure about the dates there but it was after 1924 that Lassalle was forgotten. He went into the unmentionable file. But the important thing is that Lassalle played a very important role in the development of the Russian revolutionary tradition before the introduction of Marxism, and certainly before the appearance of Bolshevism. I don’t think there is time to talk about every aspect of it now, but I think the Russian revolutionary intelligentsia had a very unusual evolution relative to the western European capitalist countries. Are you familiar with Nechaev?

    SaNoShin: Yes.

    LG: Nechaev in the 1870s wrote his “Revolutionary Catechism”, and it said the revolutionary has no friends, the revolutionary has no romantic attachments, the revolutionary lives for only one thing which is the destruction of the existing world, and I’m sure I’m forgetting other things. And as you may know the Russian writer Dostoevskii wrote a very powerful novel called “The Devils” (or “The Possessed”) which portrays this mentality of the Russian revolutionary intelligentsia before Marxism, and before Bolshevism in which clandestine groups of revolutionary intellectuals are sitting around and saying, “Well of course we will have to kill millions of people to build the perfect world.” So the Russian revolutionary intelligentsia repudiated Nechaev and Nechaev’s specific activities. On the other hand, the mentality I think, pervaded the revolutionary milieu there.

    SaNoShin: In Korea we had similar influence.

    LG: Really? Like the NL [National Liberation =pro-North Korean Stalinist] faction?
    So Victor Serge again, reports that in 1920, 1921, in the first congresses of the Comintern, when communist delegates came from other parts of the world, there was no one who compared to the Russian revolutionary intelligentsia in terms of experience and attitude. And I think we can all agree that Nechaev’s “Revolutionary Catechism” has nothing to do with a Marxist view of the revolutionary individual. I think that in the creation of Bolshevism, was this influence of a very unique evolution of Russian revolutionary intelligentsia, the influence of Lassalle, not Marx and that even when the Russian revolutionary tradition was talking an exclusively Marxist language, this other element was always present. When Lenin wrote “What is to be done?”, he argued that real class consciousness…, that the working class struggle, the spontaneous struggle of the working class could never go beyond trade union consciousness and that revolutionary consciousness was embodied in this special stratum of revolutionaries. It’s like what I was saying earlier, that the Bolshevik party embodies the revolution, they were the revolution and people who criticized them were counter-revolutionaries. There was this dualism in Lenin’s view between the reformist, trade unionist practice of the working class and the revolutionary perspective of the party and that without that special body of professionals, the working class would never go beyond trade union reformist practice. Then came 1905 and the creation of soviets and workers’ councils and it was clear that, because the soviets and workers’ councils were not created by Bolsheviks, that the whole view was wrong! I think it’s really important and I presume you agree that the soviets and the workers’ councils were not a discovery of any theoretician. They were the discovery of the practical activity of the working class. So when Lenin published “What is to be done?”, Rosa Luxemburg was not the only critic of what he said. Trotsky, in two separate writings- the “Report of the Siberian Delegation” and also another one called “Our Political Tasks”-said…. Trotsky wrote the famous passage, “In Lenin’s conception the party will substitute itself for the working class, the central committee will substitute itself for the party, and finally the general secretary will substitute himself for the central committee.”, 1904, Leon Trotsky. Similarly Rosa Luxemburg’s criticism, summarized in the line, “The mistakes and lessons of a working class movement in motion are more important than the directives of the most intelligent central committee.” She was pointing at the expression in “What is to be done?”, of these elements that I think were unique to the Russian party organization and which we were talking about before, when we were talking about Kronstadt. with relationship to the origins of Kronstadt, this creation of this party apparatus that embodied the revolution above the practical movement of the working class. And as you know, in 1918, just before her death, she wrote her second criticism of Lenin, in which she said, “What we see in Soviet Russia today is indeed a dictatorship, but it is not the dictatorship of the proletariat.” [end Goldner interview]

    The exact quote of Rosa’s bears repeating:

    “The mistakes committed by a genuine revolutionary working class are much more fruitful and worthwhile historically than the infallibility of the cleverest Central Committee.”

    The self-selected leaders of the working class, constantly telling us workers that we aren’t ready are confirmation of what she said.

    As for the Mission District on March 4th, I hope our comrade who’s a 3rd grade teacher there will post here. Last Saturday at the Los Angeles statewide conference she unleashed her venom on the “fakers” in UESF, especially who collaborated with the union bureaucracies to prevent an all-day walk out. She reserved her severest criticism of the duplicity of the EDU caucus, who posed as militants while undermining the radical impulses of the parents and kids who wanted to repeat the strike on May Day 2006 and have a walk out. On February 9th we fliered Mission High and 90% of the kids — and even the principal — supported walking out for the day. Too bad the sectarian left couldn’t break their cozy relationship with the class collaborationists in the SF Labor Council, and by extension with mainstream politicians in the Democratic Party (all of which is the same shit that happened on May Day 2006 in L.A.).

    A walk out at 3:00 p.m. when school normally gets out at 3:15 is lame. It isn’t radical leaving 15 minutes early. But for those who lack a dialectical critique, doing the “permitted” is O.K. because you’re only looking for quantifiable results: “counting your numbers” and “feeling your power” and one sectarian party wrote.

    Some of us know that with our working class sisters and brothers we can push things so much further.

    Sorry for the extremely long post. I’ll step aside for awhile.

    All Power to the Rank-and-File,


  32. A few points:

    1) To “unleash venom against the ‘fakers'” of EDU was/is sectarian as fuck. It sounds like that speech in LA could have literally come from the Spartacist League. You can have criticisms of EDU, the ISO, etc. but to argue that they are the root of the problem for “undermining radical impulses” is completely out of touch with reality. If it’s true that that all the working class already wants to strike already, then why the hell were small groups of Leninists supposedly capable of preventing such a massive tidal wave of resistance from striking?

    As far as I can tell, it seems like EDU is doing awesome and important work in SF. And as far as I can tell, the adventurist (and AS) talk about organizing in the ranks of the working class remains just that: talk.

    2) As ThirdReconstruction noted, it is a big error to confuse spontaneity with the political method of adventurism (or the political strategy put forward by AS, Unity and Struggle, etc.). It is true that periodically the working class rises up and takes all established organizations and activists by surprise (e.g. May 2006). But, for the record, Lenin and Trotsky wrote a lot about this phenomenon and incorporated it into their strategy (see the parts of Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution on Lenin). The difference with the adventurists and “sponteneists” (e.g. CLR James, etc.) and Leninists is simply that we see the limitations of such spontaneous outbursts. Most of the actions list put forward by Hieronymous were defeated precisely because there existed no revolutionary party capable of helping these struggles overcome dispersion and capable of helping workers concentrate/centralize their actions against the bosses.

    Such a party needs deep roots in the class and its mass organizations, so that at such explosive moments it can help lead to the seizure of power — but such a base can only be built through patient work in non-revolutionary periods (e.g. currently in the U.S.), not through focusing your time on denouncing the labor fakers and other leftists, or via sterile glorifications of spontaneity.

    2) Is it a coincidence that all the left-communist/ ultraleft Marxist/CLR James-inspired/etc (i.e. non Leninist Marxists like AS or Unity and Struggle) have completely failed to build lasting organizations rooted at all in the working class? (This even compared with the still-small Trotskyist movement!) I would argue that because these “post-Leninists” have provided no real comprehensive organizational/political alternative to Leninism, they tend to be incapable of moving beyond tiny discussion groups of radicals, which doesn’t mean they don’t sometimes do good work. I tend to doubt Unity and Struggle and AS will shake the historical tendency on this point.

  33. I said I’d stand aside but Liam’s allegations of sectarianism, coming from someone sympathetic to the ISO, is absurd.

    Let’s bring up the LA statewide conference last weekend. Alex Schmaus from the ISO stood at the mike and before the whole body of the meeting used the example of the occupation at SF State last December as one of the reasons why the next statewide meeting should be at SF State in October. But this was the very same Alex Schmaus who denounced the occupation in no uncertain terms for interfering with the ISO’s planned general assembly for that day. Hearing it first hand, it was a textbook example of “talking shit.”

    It was also the height of hypocrisy. But it’s nothing new for the ISO. Let’s be honest, the ISO are opportunists who in practice are indistinguishable from liberals, competing for the furthest right position among the Trotskyist centrists. And except for worming their way to the top of union bureaucracies, they really don’t have any presence in the working class. They’re main focus is recruitment on college campuses. And sure, some of those cadre graduate and go into teaching, a misfortune for the children they teach.

    On many U.S. campuses we have these strange bookends of pseudo-opposition: the LaRouchites on the right competing with the ISO on the left. The LaRouchites are clearly more intelligent, but both groups are equally weird and opportunistic.

    Here’s a great critique of the lying, deceitful, and hypocritical tactics of the ISO in action at SF State when the Iraq War started in 2003, called “ISOnuts: One Stop Activism and the Gentrification of the Left.” Found here:

    And as Rawick pointed out in the quote above, the ISO’s criteria for success is purely quantifiable. As in numbers of members, papers sold, headcounts at general assemblies and demos, and column inches in bourgeois newspapers and seconds on corporate TV your spectacular pseudo-events attract. There couldn’t be a more ahistorical way of accounting. Paraphrasing Eduard Bernstein, they seem to be saying “The ORGANIZATION (in this case the ISO, but it could be any other) is everything… while what people commonly call the goal of socialism is nothing.”

    This is completely lacking in a deeper analysis, especially using a marxian dialectical methodology, because it’s all surface appearance and completely devoid of a critique of essence. Hence opportunist campaigns like a gun control ballot initiative in SF, hosting events for that vile Stalinist British MP George Galloway, having local ISO leader Todd Chretien campaigning for pro-capitalist Green Party presidential candidate Raph Nader, ad nauseam.

    The critique our independent comrade, the 3rd grade teacher in SF, made at the mike in L.A. was 100% completely justified. We shared her experience when ISO cadre used to come to our SF March 4th Committee meetings and it was as though their agenda was to demoralize us by telling us what we couldn’t do. Like we couldn’t strike, couldn’t have a mass walkout, we couldn’t do anything radical at all, basically with the constant refrain that “people aren’t ready.” The same fucking bullshit we get everyday from the defenders of the status quo, be they our boss, politicians in Sacramento and D.C., or corporate media like Fox News and the SF Chronicle, and every other ideologue spouting that there-is-no-alternative to capitalism.

    Like religious proselytizers, our only salvation is THEIR organization and THEIR leadership taking us to the promised land. And worst still, with some miracle comparable to Jesus walking on water, saying that they can magically use reformist means to accomplish not only radical, but revolutionary ends. Hallelujah!

    Honestly, this dogma comes from a deep contempt for the intelligence and creativity of working class people.

    And exposes who the real sectarians are: those scheming, recruiting and manipulating in ways that are at cross purposes to working class self-activity. Or at odds with Marx, when he said:

    “The liberation of the working working class will be the task of the workers themselves.”

    Case in point: someone named Leslie Smith, who’s an administrator at City College San Francisco, got the official city and police permit for the 5:00 p.m. rally at SF Civic Center on March 4th. She did this well before any of us organizing for March 4th ever had a meeting to “democratically” decide the place, time and manner of our actions that day. It later become obvious that the SF Labor Council and the whole political establishment were on board with this unilateral decision to preclude the possibility of a strike. No one one ever challenged this, but every sectarian group in town jockeyed to sign on and gain an edge over the others.

    Since when do we let our class enemies plan our rallies for us? Makes me wonder if the cops were in on the decision making process too.

  34. Quick reply:

    Wow, the amazing thing about the last post by Hieronymous was the complete silence on the three actual political points I raised! I don’t think it’s particularly useful to shield political discussions of strategy and tactics behind long, unfounded, shit-talking denunciations of Trotskyist organizations who are doing good work in the class struggle. (That is a sectarian approach towards discussion in my opinion.)

    Can we keep this discussion civil and comradely?

    p.s. Can other voices chime in?

  35. “You didn’t answer my questions” is a classical rhetorical device to narrow debate.

    No, I’m not going to answer. Unless you engage in good faith and actually back up your allegations. You’ve repeatedly referred to people doing “awesome and important work” and “good work in the class struggle.” Like what? Otherwise those are empty and meaningless platitudes. Please give examples.

    And define your terms. You’ve acknowledged that we’re of different political persuasions; “adventurous” to me connotes activities that make life worth living, while obviously for you it’s a sectarian diss. Same with the way others use “ultra-left” (which is not the way terms like “ultra-gauche” are use in France or elsewhere).

    It’s O.K. to agree-to-disagree, but it’s annoying when your points seem facile because you don’t back them up.

    And it’s very, very easy to knock others down when you don’t put your own ideas up for scrutiny. So what do you personally think, independently of the group you’re in?

  36. David Walters wrote in relation to political organizing, “The best way to do that is to *mobilize* them based on *their* expressed desires (where they are AT) and needs not on YOURS or MINE.” This statement appears as if there are two positions, one is the far leftist positions and the other is the position of working class reality. Obviously if these were the two positions of our political reality, imposing a far left position is problematic and elitist. But the problem is the FRAMEWORK. Is this really the two positions of our reality? If it is, it eliminates working class consciousness in flux. Conscioussness is constantly changing and is never the same. The way one should orient towards consciousness in one period is different than another. Heraclitus, “You can never step in the same river twice.” The Marxist method is based on understanding not just where people are at, but where people can go.

  37. Hieronymous: I’m going to try and turn the heat down a little, because this has been and still can be a fruitful discussion, and it would be a disservice to the AS blog if it degenerates into a silly slanging match.

    “Adventurism” is not generally a term I would personally use to describe a political tendency. But, in the article above, AS use it to describe an identifiable trend in the budget cuts movement: the small groups of radicals, often meeting in secret, who launched several of the building occupations last fall. I think AS uses the term “adventurist” because these radicals had a “go it alone” attitude–they weren’t overly concerned with working in or as part of a mass movement, with the partial exception that some seem to have hoped or believed that their actions would “inspire” others to act, too.

    If we use that as a working definition for “adventurism” you can see why I objected to your list: yes, all those actions or events came out of industrial production, but they were mass working-class actions and not at all similar to the “adventurist” actions that AS critiques above.

    What can we say about the “adventurist” actions in the fall?

    To my mind they played a contradictory role. On the one hand, there’s no doubt that many people took inspiration from some of the campus occupations: they reintroduced a militant tactic into the movement and escalated the struggle in an important way. I don’t think the big actions on March 4 would have been possible without them.

    On the other hand, though, these actions ran up against their own limitations pretty quickly. People who came out to defend or support occupations in the fall seem less willing to do so now. There hasn’t been a really successful occupation in quite a long time–the last attempt at SF State was pretty disastrous. In my opinion that’s because students and workers soon got tired of being excluded from the planning and execution of these actions.

    So, if you want to have a discussion about spontaneity, we can do that. But if you want to talk about “adventurism” (again, I’m using the term as political short-hand, not as an insult) then we’re discussing something quite different.

    In fact, there are tendencies in “adventurism” that are far more vanguardist or elitist than anything I’ve seen from even the most bureaucratic and Stalinized sect in the present-day US. For example: the idea that the radical minority should go it alone, regardless of the consequences for the broader movement; the notion that workers and students are sitting around waiting to be “inspired” by courageous student militants; a style of organizing in which charismatic leaders run the show in the name of “non-hierarchical organizing.”

    — James

  38. I tried to post this list below last night but it did not go through. I’d just like to note that the proof is in the pudding. The ISO has always had the rhetoric of inclusion, openness, transparency, solidarity, etc. but when you work with them you start to see their actual praxis, stacking the delegates for big conferences, censoring the websites of their front groups if someone had a critical perspective, libeling their enemies, shelving proposals (like the strike) undemocratically, attempting to break up/recruit groups that they see as on their turf, controlling the agenda with a fraction group while allowing non-ISO cadre to “speak their mind,” importing a liberal bloc to squash militancy, and so on. Who on this forum has never seen an article or report back about a conference “hijacked” by the ISO? By now their behavior is so well established, that it has been good to see their star fading as more and more students and people in the community take precautions against their proclivity to lie and manipulate while playing the victim. They are organized, rigidly, hierarchically, with the paper hawker cadre at the bottom, and believe you me, the head games they play on those members could make you cry, it’s that alienating, with the more established cadre acting like little Lenin’s, or just asshole bosses, literally telling people who they can and can’t talk to. I saw it first hand working with the ISO (not as a member) for years—see ISOnuts.

    Someone mentioned CLR James as being part of a tendency that leads only to small isolated reading groups. First off, I would rather be in a small reading group that theorizes and has radical praxis in the community than a MCsocialist group like the ISO that will always have a revolving door of cadre, and carry out a liberal praxis. I want to use a group I am part of to counter the statement. The Insane Dialectical Posse (IDP) is an ultra-Left group in the Bay Area, with members in LA, Portland, and Hawaii heavily influenced by CLR James and anti-Bolshevik and Council Communists. They were a big part of carrying out the 2005 SF Fare Strike, in which tens of thousands of people participated—riding transit free making working class demands against the commodity structure of capitalism. They’ve carried out many flying pickets in support of hotel workers and teachers and crashed scab hirings for the Oakland school district. Members have held strikes, including the ESL wildcat strike, that had ripple effects throughout the ESL community in the Bay Area and beyond, and also an IDP member led a bike messenger strike in San Francisco and the workers won all their demands. They hold educational meetings at the Niebyl Proctor library, where they run the Red & Black Reading room, and have been putting on radical community film nights for years. They’ve hosted international class struggle conferences strengthening connections with people in Latin America, all over Europe, and the U.S..They publish IDP editions, and run Sand Paper Books in L.A. which also has hosted many speakers and run a community space. One of their members creates a radical surrealist literary magazine distributed by Charles Kerr books. Their members have been a big part of the ultra-Left for the March 4th organizing. One member was a key organizer, successfully mobilizing against the privatization of public space at the Arboretum in Golden Gate Park (now under attack once again). And yes they’ve been part of amazing reading groups, including a Society of the Spectacle group with Ken Knabb, one of the main translators of the Situationists into English. One of their members (o.k. me) also published “ISOnuts” which has proven to be a useful resource for some, and their members have been published in countless places, from MUTE, to Anarchy Magazine, as well as having been interviewed on Against the Grain radio, and this list goes on and on. Sorry to brag, but the ignorant claim that the groups influenced by CLR James just sit around and read is dead wrong. We do all this without seeing ourselves as, or acting as a vanguard. We coordinate with friends, community groups, and the working class of which we are part of. We listen and learn, and don’t fool ourselves that the working class has to be led by a centralized intelligentsia because we know we learn from the fight, and our praxis leads to theory. We work with anarchists, Marxists, and non-labelled comrades, even Trots who are principled, but we won’t hesitate to call out groups or individuals who are clearly acting as a brake on class struggle for their own organizational ends. It shouldn’t need to be said, because how else should one act in the class struggle?

    It was mentioned that the Santa Cruz campaign showed that some conservative groups were acting unlike their counterparts in other cities, but I wouldn’t bet on it. When the ISO can’t sabotage a campaign to limit it to the liberal road, they will go along so as to position themselves to take the credit (and they certainly seem to want to take a big part of the credit for the UCSC strike), but it shouldn’t convince anyone that one chapter of the ISO has somehow been radicalized. When an ISO member is radicalized, she leaves the group.

    Here’s the list:

    Part 1
    ISO Alienates SF State Activists Part I
    ISO Alienates SF State Activists Part II
    ISO the Joy of Sects
    Which Side is the ISO on, Working Class Socialism or Nationalism and Islam? by Mahmood Ketabchi
    Why did ISO hijack Berkley CA Schools Conference
    Why did ISO hijack Berkley CA Schools Conference? (2)
    Same as above but with different commentary following it.)
    Response to ISO Democracy or consensus article on anti-war conferences
    Despite Schism, Brown antiwar groups make last-minute plans to express opposition
    ISO Hijacks BOSTON and SAN FRANCISCO Campus Anti-War Conferences
    The Anti-War Movement and Iraq: Stephen Shalom dismantles ISO “anti-Imperialism” at Zmag online.

    Part 2
    Trot/Liberal attempts to reign in Militancy March 4th and Beyond (A Collection)
    Links Dealing With Trot Group, and Union and University Bureaucrat Interference and Hindering of Rank and File Militancy in the March 4th Strikes, Actions, and Beyond:

    • A response to the lies of March 4th
    Report back on an action at Hunter College in New York. Protesters are accused of being “saboteurs” and “outside agitators.” An ISO member confronts protestors to make sure they will not “cause trouble” or do anything outside the pre-approved and sanctioned rally. Shortly after his intervention the police follow up.

    • How To Not Capitulate to Union Bureaucracies: March 4th and the AFSCME 444 Resolution
    A critique of much of the Left’s unwillingness to put forth a militant plan of action for March 4th.

    • Behind the Privatization of the UC, a Riot Squad of Police

    Highly readable piece on an occupation at UC Berkely which includes a section criticizing some UC staff and self appointed student leaders for acting as police to end the occupation and in the process ignore the student goals and demands.

    • “Lucy Carrillo: In Defense of the 10/24 Conference to Save Public Education”
    Read especially the comments section where participants complain about how the conference was hijacked by the ISO and a Trotskyist/liberal front that sought to water down militancy. Democratically created propositions for ongoing strikes toward a general strike were completely removed from the discussion to be replaced instead with a strike OR actions platform that immediately reduced solidarity and definite militancy. This action removed democratically voted upon platforms brought by several campuses from the discussion.

    • SF State CEO Corrigan and “Socialists” Attack SFSU Occupation
    The ISO’s “Socialist Worker” paper criticizes a building occupation at SF State as “secretive” (amazing given their ubiquitous use of “fraction groups” and manipulating conferences by stacking the delegates from different universities attending) and as having caused the cancellation of an Assembly meeting which is supposedly anti-democratic because a militant occupation (in a long historical student tradition, which has often led to broader action) interfered with a planned assembly meeting.

    • La Ventana Collective critiques the ISO’s opposition to occupation at SF State as an attempt to maintain control over the campus movement.

    • Similarly, “White Anarchists” have now been labeled as outsiders attempting to lead Blacks and other minorities into actions. Such charges have been made over the March 4th Oakland freeway shutdown. Irrelevant is the fact that participants have described the action as cross racial, but apparently minority groups are incapable of acting in their own interests and are easily controlled by “White Anarchists.”

    • ISOnuts: The classic pamphlet from 2005 by an SF State Student critiquing the International Socialist Organization’s duplicitous manipulation of students in one of their anti-war front groups.

  39. In reply to Vodka Saucy:

    Obviously, working-class consciousness is in a constant flux. This is a completely obvious point that nobody disagrees with!

    But it is necessary to take into account the workers’ CURRENT state of consciousness, precisely in order to be able to raise action demands that can help workers (through self-mobilization and organization) move to higher levels of thought and action!

    Just because workers’ consciousness is in flux doesn’t at all justify raising ultraleft demands and proposals that are incapable of helping workers go into independent motion against the bosses.

    For example, would the fact that workers’ consciousness is constantly changing justify going TODAY to a general assembly of my union local to propose the union accept a socialist program, buy a bunch of arms, and set a date for an insurrection? Obviously not.

    But (if I were an ultraleft) I could justify such a weirdo action (given the current moment in the U.S.) by saying that workers’ consciousness is in flux, etc. — and thus radicals should raise “advanced demands” because even if we lose the vote, at least we point the way forward and expose the bureaucracy, etc. The problem is that this is essentially an inefective propagandist approach, not a Marxist approach towards pushing forward the existing class struggle.

    I think this key methodological difference is at the heart of a lot of these debates….

  40. David Walters

    Vodka Saucy raises an interesting point directed at me. VS raises a good question. Clearly workers only move when they are ready based on their consiousness. How does the dynamic of that consiousness become more political, more militant, more dynamic?

    I think through two ways.

    1. Just moving into struggle against the boss or the boss’ government does this. The act of moving itself changes people. The ability to move from individual solutions to collective action is a huge consiousness raising lesson for many.

    2. The role of revolutionaries in raising political and tactical solutions to these workers in motion has the effect of raising solutions that probably haven’t or many not of occured to them; breaking with the Democrats (and pointing out who the political enemies are of our class); building more militant unions and organizing to do so; seeking not just other union and class support locally but perhaps internationally (I was involved in the Neptune Jade beef, search for it on google); building a political party of the working class, questioning capitalism.

    The difference here maybe in how one does this. “Raising ideas” and “organizing” around those ideas are sometimes different things, I believe. And who does this “raising” (demands, proposals, ideas, etc?)….is it the ‘job’ of the movement itself to have to take such positions? Taking a formal position, say, on capitalism as if that would be a binding glue for the post-March4th movement would simply narrow, tremendously, or make irrelevant a movement to include *all* students and workers in the anti-Budget movement.

    But raising any and all ideas by groups within this movement is a good thing, not a bad thing, so long as it doesn’t cut across mobilizing around the issues that have brought everyone together in the first place. Common sense. Off the top of my head that is how I’d answer your question.


  41. When someone starts citing Infoshop as an authority, it’s time to call it a day.

    Apologies to the comrades at AS for wasting space on your blog–I thought maybe a useful discussion could continue, but it’s turned into the usual Trot-bashing farce.

    The one sensible statement from “Comrade Moputo” above is that “the proof is in the pudding.” These debates will be played out in practice.

    — James

  42. Come on James, your last post was sectarianbabble. Your group takes positions indistinguishable from our class enemies, like Corrigan and the SF State administration. For a lucid account, called “SF State CEO Corrigan and “Socialists” Attack SFSU Occupation,” read here:

    James, aren’t you the one who wanted to “turn the heat down a little”? Then why the hypocrisy? Countless times I’ve seen ISO cadre pander to the bourgeois media like famished puppies. And you have the audacity to facilely diss Infoshop without a single word to substantiate your dismissal.

    And what the makes you the authority. Your good standing in a vanguard organization? You high level of formal education? What a bunch of sectarian bullshit!

    Good riddance.

  43. Hi thirdreconstruction, the infoshop links were to a debate that was posted on that site from the Students Against War (SAW) at SF State website in 2005. The SAW group was an ISO front group. So you can read the posts of some ISO homies you may know in those links, and heartily agree with them, occasionally saying “yeah!” like you folks always do at a really good ISO meeting where you agree with everything being said. The other infoshop link was posted by a wide variety of attendees at a different Berkeley conference hijacked by the ISO (not the 2005 one I was at, and not the 10/24/09 one either, a different one) so that link also would not set up infoshop as an authority. If you wanted to say anyone who would post to infoshop is an illegitimate source, you’re only shouting your anti-anarchist sectarianism. Or to cut you some slack, maybe those anarchists don’t rise to the caliber of the ones the ISO now regularly pretends to have common ground with, the historical I.W.W. That’s about a bad a joke as “Haymarket Books.”

  44. Keep it Political

    Ok, theres a lot bashing on the ISO and the anarchist. The info is out there. If people want to read it they should. The future points people make should be based off political differences not organizational attacks as a means of politics. Such political differences should discuss how to elevate the movement, and what framework we should use to do that.

  45. Wowser ultra-lefts vs. Trots gets heated! I’ve found this debate pretty interesting (if a little ridiculously intense), and reflective of the relationship between the ultra-left and the centrists that we’re trying to get at in our piece.

    I liked this thing that Hieronymous wrote:
    “We didn’t slavishly read what Lenin wrote in 1920, when there were 180,000,000 people in the Soviet Union, but only 7 or 8,000,000 industrial workers. What worked in a largely peasant-based society, where social relations we in many cases pre-capitalist (meaning even pre-formal domination where not even absolute surplus value was being extracted), WON’T work in a post-industrial consumer and service industry based society like ours.

    Being a revolutionary today and using the writings of Lenin and the actions of the Bolsheviks as trans-historical truth , as though Taylorism, Fordism, Keynesianism and neo-liberalism had never occurred, is like being a Christian and living by the gospel of the Old Testament and either denying or pretending that the New Testament and the Reformation had never happened. Read Herman Gorter’s “Open Letter to Comrade Lenin” to see the latter’s “’Left-Wing Communism,’ An Infantile Disorder” dialectically ripped to shreds (available here: )”

    The first paragraph gets at what I was talking about in my “shallow” comment above, which was more an engagement with Katy’s comment than the SO piece.

    (Sidenote: AS is (slowly) working on a group response to the SO, Gathering Forces and (spoiler alert!) coming ISO pieces…..but until then there’s only my vague pronouncements. 🙂 )

    What I was saying was definitely not “we’re doing something new; you all are old fashioned and obsessed with dead Russians” as I was characterized by thirdreconstruction. That would be funny, but it would also be really stupid and anti-intellectual. What I, and I think Katy, were talking about was the methodology you use to engage with historical events and theory. Before applying What Is To Be Done directly to the modern US, it is important see whether the reasons Lenin put forward for the Bolshevik party model are present here. Since I think it was the mostly correct form then, if the situation meets the same criteria then the same form is called for. It’s just that I have a suspicion that it doesn’t, but I haven’t done the thorough reading and analysis necessary to put forward an extensive polemic against the Trotskyist application of the Bolshevik party model in the US…..therefore it’s not going to be of much use to debate me about it etc. The comment section of a blog is an informal zone where people can rep their underdeveloped thoughts and see if they get a response…rather than primarily an extensive polemic-off (despite above appearances).

    I’m interested in reading Gorter’s Open Letter, have any of the Trots read it? Despite this interest, I usually agree with Lenin’s critiques of the ultra-lefts of his time….for instance I agree with all of the quotes from “Left-Wing Communism” that SO put in their piece! (Although not with the way they are applied to us, somewhat for the above reasons.) The old game of “who’s the real Leninist” is not important to me, nor is claiming the mantle of the modern-day Bolshevik Party, but Lenin is one of the best Marxist theorists that has ever lived (not only on organization!) and thus occupies a very important place in my development as a theoretical Marxist.

    As usual, I agree with a lot of the ultra-left denunciations but their plans for action leave a lot to be desired. Hieronymous’s paraphrasing of part of this debate as “Organization as the sole conduit for revolutionary activity vs. Consciousness as arising from action, organically giving an organizational form appropriate to the content of the struggle (perhaps best expressed in Rosa Luxemburg’s excellent “The Mass Strike)” is kinda useful, and that sort of deep understanding of the importance of spontaneity (in the Marxist sense) is one of the main insights Luxemburg gave us. The difficulty for me lies in telling the difference between organization being mechanically forced onto struggles and action “organically giving an organizational form appropriate to the content,” because this organic forming is mediated by people with intentions…..I think in this case “organically” is most productively defined as not emanating from the decision of a revolutionary organization. This is where it gets confusing to me, because most ultra-lefts in struggle rather than sitting back stridently propose insurrection or general strike, or even organize insurrections! This is the contradiction that comes from the ultra-left, anti-hierarchical conflation of themselves with the class in general. At its best it leads to the kind of honor, commitment and fighting spirit seen in Hieronymous’s description of his involvement in that workplace strike….I bet other revs (including possibly myself!) would be too concerned that people wouldn’t be “at” that kind of stuff to put forward those proposals and some might even argue against them in order to protect the workers from repurcussions (inevitable in any job action.)

    At worst, it leads to a completely deluded understanding of what’s going on, in the opposite direction of the centrists (this is the argument in our piece but I’m too lazy to find a good quote.) Hieronymous as always is putting forward the clearest ultra-left line and thus make it easy to see what I’m talking about:

    “I TAKE MY DREAMS FOR REALITY BECAUSE I BELIEVE IN THE REALITY OF MY DREAMS!“ (So Hieronymous actually agrees with David’s characterization that “You are *projecting* in the best of idealist fashion what “you’d like” over what is” and proudly defends that position!” Personally I think that is a terrible slogan, because believing in the reality of your dreams does not mean that they ARE reality! In fact isn’t that an okay definition for utopian socialism, and don’t all us Marxists agree that Owenism etc. were historical dead ends specifically because they failed to analyze the specific ways that capitalism is producing a future, different society?)

    Also this: “The working class is ready to fight the class war, it’s just that we’ve got to ignore the defeatist and dogmatic slogans of the sectarian left, trade unions and liberals. They end up parroting bourgeois ideas that there-is-no-alternative and “workers aren’t ready to fight.” And workers aren’t some external “other,” we are the workers and WE ARE READY!”

    In what way are we ready? Well, if you mean that there’s a material basis for winning the class war i.e. the global proletariat is extremely numerous and we’re in the middle of a capital crisis then yeah we’re ready….but unfortunately the history of our communist movement is contained within the other part of Hiero’s phrase, that it’s JUST(!) “that we’ve got to ignore the defeatist and dogmatic slogans of the sectarian left, trade unions and liberals.” We’re ready except for….consciousness! Come on, if the working-class in general was ready there would BE A REVOLUTION; it might fail, but you really think that if a majority of the class was prepared and compelled to move some almost totally irrelevant socialists and trade union bureaucrats could stop it? Liam makes the same point here: “You can have criticisms of EDU, the ISO, etc. but to argue that they are the root of the problem for “undermining radical impulses” is completely out of touch with reality. If it’s true that that all the working class already wants to strike already, then why the hell were small groups of Leninists supposedly capable of preventing such a massive tidal wave of resistance from striking?” Even the Democratic and Republican Party (see what I did there?) obviously couldn’t stop class warfare except militarily! VIVA!! Oh shit I got a little excited, there’s an insurrectionist in me somewhere.

    This is the core of the general ultra-left HATRED for the ISO particularly and hierarchical Bolshevik-type parties generally: they don’t see what’s holding the class back except for the other organizations proposing conservative stuff and “controlling” it! Ironically this waaaaay overestimates the importance of centrists, liberals etc., and forms the logical basis for directing bile against conservative Left forces rather than the class enemy. As noted above, Hiero eliminates any separation between himself as an extremely knowledgeable ultra-Left Marxist and the rest of the proletariat while recognizing the important fact that he is part of the class. Although this difference is recognized in practice by the formation of the situationist international, insane dialectical posse etc. the triumphalism produced by the above outlook leaves the maximum program (GENERAL STRIKE!!!!!!) of the ultra-lefts usually finding few takers, which mostly leads them to furiously blame hierarchical Leftist organizations for suppressing the spontaneity they “know” is there.

    David Walters’ last post in contrast is a less clear example of the centrist thing we’re talking about. Maybe it’s because of a practical adaptation to 80 years of marginality that is not reflected in the theory, but in general I find it harder to see the relationship between theory and practice with the centrists. While in my experience everything Hiero does makes complete sense with his above framework, in my experience Trotskyists that I know say what DW said there but interpret it in a highly conservative way. It has something to do with the unexamined process of determining, as Liam puts it, “the workers’ CURRENT state of consciousness, precisely in order to be able to raise action demands that can help workers (through self-mobilization and organization) move to higher levels of thought and action!” How do you do this? When Lenin writes about this process it is usually about trying to convince the workers of revolutionary Marxism but organizing with them no matter what they choose to do….which is specifically different than doing your best to personify the existing majority sentiment in order to gain credibility. For instance, when I was talking to people about March 4th they would sometimes ask me if I thought we were going to win anything and I’d say “no, because this level of struggle won’t be won with a day of action, it will only be won with something that fucks up the economy like the May 1st 2006 day without an immigrant….basically like everyone going on strike…..but this can be a first step on that road if we can convince folks that it’ll have to go farther than this!” Mostly this met with a positive reception, not that that proves anything. But it definitely wasn’t the majority sentiment!

    In the centrist rhetoric against the occupationists you can see how fragile they believe class consciousness to be. I can’t count how many times people have blasted the “rioters” and “white-boys in masks” over list-serves I’ve been on for how they’re alienating the movement, turning people off, endangering people of color etc. Come on, these people also aren’t so important as to have this extreme alienating effect. Not sure where this error comes from, but perhaps it’s the inversion of the ultra-lefts’ blame-game; “if it wasn’t for the adventurists we’d be able to meet people where they’re at without alienating them!” The normal centrist formula of in action be where people are and outside of action be a communist (articulated well in the SO piece) has a serious contradiction….people’s consciousness changes when they act not because they are holding a sign, but because they made a decision to do so! It’s revealing when SO says “We, on the other hand, saw the 10/24 conference as primarilly a means to get the ball rolling for mass actions, through which tens of thousands could gain experience and confidence in their potential strength through struggle, thereby opening them up to radical politics (which we should consistently push forward through propaganda forums, our publications, etc.).” This is specifically what we’re talking about when we argue that while the adventurists overemphasize the inherently radicalizing nature of confrontational action, the centrists often totally disconnect radical politics from action, losing sight of the crucial moment to teach revolutionary Marxism! (Not in a banking way of course 😉 )

    I want to end this long rant with this very important question that Liam poses:

    “2) Is it a coincidence that all the left-communist/ ultraleft Marxist/CLR James-inspired/etc (i.e. non Leninist Marxists like AS or Unity and Struggle) have completely failed to build lasting organizations rooted at all in the working class? (This even compared with the still-small Trotskyist movement!) I would argue that because these “post-Leninists” have provided no real comprehensive organizational/political alternative to Leninism, they tend to be incapable of moving beyond tiny discussion groups of radicals, which doesn’t mean they don’t sometimes do good work. I tend to doubt Unity and Struggle and AS will shake the historical tendency on this point.”

    Yeah, of course that’s definitely not a coincidence. It’s exactly because the post-Leninists haven’t provided an organizational/political alternative to Leninism, which is a great way of putting it. James, Dunayevskaya and all should be thoroughly critiqued for this, and even more importantly Leninism should be rehabilitated! As ultra-lefts and Trotskyists have already agreed on above, “the proof is in the pudding”, which is why all of us marginal leftists should take a chill pill on the shrill tone because very obviously no one has the right answer right now. Thanks for this extremely interesting debate, and if you’re still reading sorry I didn’t edit this!

  46. Published in 1958, it’s interesting to see that the Left of the Leninist tendencies had identified and elaborated a critique of the organizational methods of the Vanguard Party, over half a century ago. That the critique resonates so powerfully today attests to the insight of the analysis. This entire text is available at

    Excerpt from _Facing Reality_ on the Vanguard Party:

    The rigidity of the Leninist organization in Russia
    was due to the police nature of the Tsarist state. His ideal was the German Social-Democracy, and it was an ideal of specially selected, specially trained revolutionary socialists, agitators, revolutionaries.

    Now, half a century after, what do we see? The
    trained professional agitator, the revolutionary socialist type of Lenin’s day is today the basis of the bureaucratic machines of the unions, the political parties, and the governments. Society has moved on since that time and these elite types have now become the greatest obstacles to that release of popular energy and creative power which has always been the most powerful
    motive force in the creation of a new society. Propaganda of the so-called “Free World” against totalitarianism has obscured the fact that this particular social and political type is not necessarily a Communist. According to the political climate of the country he lives in, he may be a Communist or a rabid anti-Communist.
    In the United States or in Britain, you will find him
    on every rung of the ladder of the union or the Labor Party. Often selfless and devoted, he is not infrequently engaged in a desperate struggle against a union or political bureaucracy. But his only perspective is that of substituting a more democratic, more capable, more honest set of bureaucrats. On whichever side of the Iron Curtain he is, he is the mortal enemy of the shop
    floor organization, of Workers Councils in every
    branch of the national activity, and of a Government of Workers Councils as the essence and content of a new society. Whether he is Communist or anti-Communist, for him the working class is incapable of acting successfully without a trained and dedicated leader-
    ship. Here is the Marxist dialectic in its most profound content. The social type, the specific personality which formed the spearhead of the workers’ movement and socialism at the beginning of the century is today the solid core of the bureaucratic reaction in every section of the working class movement.

    Today the working class has no need of these pro-
    letarian Jesuits. It has arrived at a stage where absolute freedom of organization, complete democracy, is not an aspiration, but the very context, the warp and woof of its daily existence. Administration as such has become alien to it. It is this, rooted in the developing structure of capitalism itself, which has gradually transformed the union and labor party administration from an instrument of the working class into a thing – in-itself, and inevitably, therefore, into an instrument of reaction.

    …The idea that the emancipation of the workers will be the work of the workers themselves is the literal and the total truth. It is not enough to say that the working class alone has the necessary force to realize its emancipation, as if the working class were the steam of an engine with intellectuals as mechanics and engine drivers. The reality is that it is the working class alone which is able to produce the organization, the forms, and ideas which this emancipation demands.THE BLINDNESS AND FAILURE OF “THE VANGUARD”

    It is absolutely imperative to put an end to the legend of “the vanguard” which has dominated the revolutionary movement for so many decades with such catastrophic results.

    …Often even when they come from the work-
    ing class and remain in the factories, they undergo a curious optical inversion in that they can no longer see what takes place in the factory, being totally occupied in carrying out a political line which they bring from outside. Their usual aim, irrespective of anything else, is to make the workers adopt the line and slogans of the political organization to which they, men of “the vanguard,” belong.
    Even when they do not undergo this perversion,
    they are sometimes unconsciously led to consider that the elements who are the most exploited and “the most backward” among the workers have little to contribute to the struggle and nothing to contribute to the ideas of socialism. This is their greatest error and its falsity is shown by the whole past history of workers’ struggles and what is going on under their very noses today.

  47. Thanks The Fish for making such a thoughtful response to the debate. I wish all posts, my own included, could be so honest in questioning and admitting self-doubt. None of us has the right answer, or we’d already have had a revolution. Right?

    And let’s be honest with ourselves, all revolutions — and revolutionary attempts — failed because the material conditions for proletarian victory did not exist. Period.

    Sure, they seemed ripe in Europe in 1848, Paris in 1871, Russia in 1917, Germany in 1918, China in 1927, Spain in 1936, Hungary in 1956, France in 1968, and in many, many other uprisings across the globe. But the workers’ movement that gave rise to them is all but dead today.

    We’ve seen glimpses of its potential, like in the immigrant general strike on May Day 2006 that The Fish alludes to above. What I found especially inspiring in that strike was the way troqueros shut down the Los Angeles/Long Beach port complex by 90%, more impressive since it’s the busiest cargo container complex in the Western Hemisphere and the gateway to trade with China. They were able to do this without formal organization, having neither unions nor parties to lead, yet still maintained informal networks (not unlike Stan Weir’s idea of “informal work groups”) to coordinate their actions. Hence content gave rise to the organizational form appropriate to their needs.

    Same with the uprising in Oaxaca in 2006. Perhaps a better model for the struggles around March 4th. And incredibly inspirational with the general assemblies in the occupied zocalo and the occupation of the university and TV and radio stations.

    Another form of class struggle to find inspiration from is the 77-day occupation of the Ssangyong Motors factory in Pyeontaek, South Korea last summer. This action would be called “ultra-left” and “adventurism” had it occurred in the U.S. The actions were heroic, but died in isolation when the state was able to use military tactics to prevent workers from nearby factories from supporting the occupation from the outside. Yet the striking workers literally fought in a do-or-die situation. Many of the leading militants are serving 5+ year sentences in prison. 6 people directly or indirectly involved in the struggle died.

    Something that’s happening at this very moment that could be instructional is the general strike in Greece. 3 people were killed today after being locked in a bank that was set afire. The uprising began with anarchist youth when their comrade Alexandros Grigoropoulos was murdered by the police in December 2008. And much like Rosa Luxemburg described in her aforementioned masterpiece, “The Mass Strike,” the Greek actions are a series of insurrectionary struggles that alternate between political and economic actions much like the struggles in Poland and Russia did between 1896 and which culminated in the Petrograd Soviet in 1905. Successful strikes were eventually crushed and rolled back, only to reappear as militant political demonstrations, only to retreat and resurface as a convergence of political and economic struggles which created truly revolutionary openings. We can only hope this happens in Greece, and with the economic domino effect of possible European bank collapses that it spreads these struggles through Europe like wildfire. Last year Sarkozy in France backed down from planned attacks on the working class for fear of the spread of the “Greek spark” that had already been ignited.

    And to be clear, I don’t “hate” the ISO I just like them more when they’re not around. I find Lenin a great historical figure, but I don’t think he or the Bolsheviks ever broke from their roots in 2nd international Social Democracy, and in practice they never went beyond Jacobinism.

    I prefer Rosa Luxemburg, who had taken up the fight against Bernstein’s revisionist theories, which provided a justification for gradualist reformism. Lenin’s ideas in “‘Left-Wing Communism,’ An Infantile Disorder” could easily have come out of Bernstein’s mouth. It’s absurd in 2010 to even have to debate the merits of parliamentarianism and working within reactionary trade unions. Today’s AFL-CIO/CTW unions are merely a fund raising appendage of the Democratic Party (while like their partners on Wall St., they often hedge against possible loses and give millions to Republicans too). In the 2008 elections the AFL-CIO gave $400,000,000 of dues payers’ money to the election industry. The SEIU alone gave $80,000,000 to the Obama campaign. It’s a joke to suggest that these institutions of class collaboration can be worked with, let alone reformed. They can’t. Into the dustbin of history with them. We’ll need to build new fighting organs of the class from scratch, although informed by an understanding of history.

    If the Greek sisters and brothers lose, we at least have the lesson of their experience to draw inspiration from. As Rosa said:

    “This contradiction between the demands of the task and the inadequacy of the pre-conditions for its fulfillment in a nascent phase of the revolutionary development results in the individual struggles of the revolution ending formally in defeat. But the [proletarian] revolution is the sole form of ‘war’ – and this is also its most vital law – in which the final victory can be prepared only by a series of ‘defeats’! […] The revolutions have until now brought nothing but defeats, but these inevitable defeats virtually pile guarantee upon guarantee of the future success of the final goal.

    To be sure, there is one condition! The question is, under which circumstances was each respective defeat incurred?” (from “Order reigns in Berlin, in Selected Political Writings”)

    All Power to the Imagination!


    PS The Fish’s critique of my use of the 1968 slogan about dreams and reality shows the disregard given to poetry in our movement. The following is perhaps an antidote:

    “No Revolutionary movement is complete without its poetic expression. If such a movement has caught hold of the imagination of the masses, they will seek a vent in song for the aspirations, fears, and hopes the loves and hatreds engendered by the struggle. Until the movement is marked by the joyous , defiant singing of revolutionary songs, it lacks one of the most distinctive marks of a popular revolutionary movement; it is the dogma of the few and not the faith of the multitude”

    -James Connolly 1907

  48. It’s an unfortunate fact of life that individuals like Hieronymous are able to re-write history by simply being loud.

    Did the ISO “denounce” the December occupation “in no uncertain terms.” Did the ISO take “positions indistinguishable from our class enemies, like Corrigan and the SF State administration.”

    Let’s quote the actual ISO response:

    “We first want to express our solidarity with and support for the occupation of the business building on Wednesday. Our movement must confront the authorities and escalate our tactics through civil disobedience and direct action to have any impact…We are outraged by the violence perpetrated by the police against peaceful protesters, and by the refusal of the SFSU administration to even consider the grievances. We join with others in demanding that all charges be dropped against all of the activists and that no disciplinary action be taken.”

    Far from “denouncing” the occupation, the ISO helped defend the building and have been a part of the occupiers’ defense campaign against the Administration.

    The AtS hit piece goes through theoretical backflips to prove that our perspective on the General Assemblies (that they had the potential of becoming an embryonic form of a united front on campus) was a bourgeois formulation.

    Here is how they came to that:

    “Formal democracy, whereby every person has to approve something before it happens, is a fiction. Democracy does not exist in the abstract. In the real world where capital dictates all, it is anti-working class to judge an action by its democratic process.”

    It is true that “democracy does not exist in the abstract.” What the critique confuses is the difference between formal democracy as exercised by bourgeois institutions, and that of self-organized bodies of workers and students. Would the vote of strike committee or worker’s council be bourgeois so long as it exists in a society where “capital dictates all”? Of course not.

    Whatever their confusion, this debate is irrelevant to the actual position the ISO took. The SO piece lays out pretty clearly:

    “Moreover, not once have we argued or written that “every action be approved by an open democratic space.” We, and others such as the ISO, argued only that the SFSU occupation on December 9, 2009 could likely have been more effective and massive (a la Wheeler Hall at UCB on Nov. 20th) had it likewise been organized by a mass united-front structure, rather than a closed-door meeting. That opinion was tactical judgment, not an eternal question of principle.”

    This gets to the abuse of the term “centrists.” In a nutshell, it was used to describe those “revolutionary in words, passive in practice.” Working off that definition alone, anyone could make use of it in sectarian volleys.

    The issue of “centrism” took center stage during the formation of the Third International. The centrist parties came from the traditions of prewar social democracy, moved to the left by the war and the success of the Russian revolution. Despite paying lip service to the revolutionary situation, they remained social democrats in practice.

    What did this actually look like? USPD refusing to fight for workers power when the German government actually collapsed (they even constituted half of the government). The French centrists were led by Marcel Cachin who was not only pro-war, but an agent of French government deployed to create a pro-war wing in the Italian Socialist Party.

    In the context of world war, the russian revolution, and actual mass working class parties, this is what centrism was in practice.

    Does this correspond in any way to the ISO?

    This refusal to be serious on the part of Hieronymous and to a significant extent, AtS, explains these absurd defenses of “adventurism.”

    Hieronymous goes as far as to offer the March Action (1921) as a “favorite example.” For those unfamiliar, the March Action might sound familiar.

    Ultraleft sections of the KPD moved on a “theory of the offensive” where in the absence of nationwide mass revolutionary movement (in 1921) they could force the pace of events arguing that “the working class could be moved only when set in motion by a series of offensive acts.”

    Unable to gauge the balance of forces, they called for a general strike. When the workers did not strike, they tried to force workers out. This led (in one instance) to workers attacking communists with clubs and forcing their way back into work.

    What followed was repression and a severe drop in membership.

    Left communists did not describe their actions as “Adventurist”–it was used as a term of derision for those who disregarded the balance of forces and chose to force the issue at all costs.

    Only recently has the term “Adventurism” been embraced in what can be nothing more than hipster irony.

    Whatever the reasons, Hieronymous is a lazy doctrinaire:

    “On February 9th we fliered Mission High and 90% of the kids — and even the principal — supported walking out.”

    Someone should tell Hiero that the Johnson Forest tendency was way more rigorous than this.

  49. Thanks to The Fish for an excellent and very thought-provoking note. A few responses:

    a) The Fish writes that “When Lenin writes about this process [raising action demands that can help workers (through self-mobilization and organization) move to higher levels of thought and action] it is usually about trying to convince the workers of revolutionary Marxism but organizing with them no matter what they choose to do….which is specifically different than doing your best to personify the existing majority sentiment in order to gain credibility.”

    There are various important flaws in this argument.

    First flaw: It is simply not true that the political method advocated by the Trotskyists consists of trying to “personify the existing majority sentiment in order to gain credibility.” What is this assertion based on?

    Contrary to this false formulation, we don’t try to simply express the majority sentiment at any given point… because the majority can often be wrong!

    If this accusation were true (that we subordinate our politics and actions to the majority), then it follows that we, for example, would have called for a vote for Obama because the majority of working-people (those who voted, at least) supported him. But we didn’t. We criticized Obama and stood in a small minority.

    Moreover, most of the actions we’ve organized this year have (unfortunately) not involved even close to the majority of students and workers on any campus. But, unlike the ultralefts, we have a strategy of supporting actions and demands that go in the direction of mobilizing and organizing the majority. “Going in the direction” of winning the majority is a horse of a different color than trying to the express the will of the majority at any given moment!

    Nor is our goal to “gain credibility.” Our method is to constantly help the working class enter into motion independently against the bosses. We aim, ideally, to reach a point where the majority of workers at a given institution (or country!) are involved in the struggle, because this is usually what it takes to win. We see building a revolutionary party as a necessary tool to advance this process.

    Second flaw: It is simply not true that Lenin’s method consisted of “trying to convince the workers of revolutionary Marxism but organizing with them no matter what they choose to do.” This is a completely propagandistic version of Leninism that is contradicted by the Bolshevik’s practice and Lenin’s most important strategic writings (e.g. Left-Wing Communism and the resolutions of the first 4 congresses of the Communist International.)

    Such a one-sided, ideological view of Leninism is usually based on the completely false idea, repeated by The Fish, Mamos, and many others, that What is To Be Done is a good summation of Leninist strategy and tactics. In reality, Lenin himself rejected many of the key formulations (on spontaneity, consciousness, etc.) in What is to Be Done relatively soon after he wrote it (1902).

    The myth surrounding What is To Be Done is completely demolished in Hal Draper’s excellent article here:

    So, no, What is To Be Done is not a particularly useful framework for beginning to understand Leninism. Before one start “rehabilitating” Leninism or coming up with a new “synthesis” (which, btw, I’m told has already been discovered by our good friend Bob Avakian! JK ) it is important to fully understand what Leninism is and what it isn’t.

  50. Hi Alex, welcome to the debate.

    But let’s be honest, this isn’t really a debate — we are literally speaking different languages. You say “adventurism” and we say “volunteerism” and “substitutionism” (to describe how the latter two are the results of vanguardism). You say _______ (fill in the blank with something implying radical) and we say “centrist.” You say “organization” and we say “class consciousness.” At this present juncture, you want “steering committees” to control the nascent movement, and we follow the ideas of Johnson-Forest and say “activity precedes consciousness” and that’s how the movement will dialectically grow and in the process will create the appropriate organizational forms.

    And regarding the Trotskyist boilerplate of “meeting workers where they’re at,” this directly refutes Marx and Engels’ ideas that belief does not govern activity. Here’s what they wrote:

    “The question is not what this or that proletarian, or even the whole proletariat at the moment ‘considers’ as its aim. The question is ‘what the proletariat is,’ and what, consequent on that ‘being,’ it will be compelled to do. Its aim and historical action is irrevocably and obviously demonstrated in its own life situation as well as in the whole organization of bourgeois society today.” (from “The Holy Family”)

    And speaking of Johnson-Forest, Marty Glaberman said “… a dialectical view of reality not only assumes contradiction as normal and natural, it views contradiction as the source of all development, change, and movement. It makes contradiction central to its concerns.” (from “Wartime Strikes”)

    Marty’s example is how in World War II the UAW had a referendum on the no-strike pledge that existed for nearly all unions. At the same time that auto workers were confirming the no-strike pledge by a vote of a slight majority, an overwhelming majority of workers were going out on wildcat strikes. 1941-1945 had more strikes, almost all wildcats, than any similar period in U.S. history.

    The point being that the alienating and hostile nature of wage labor creates this contradiction between “being” and “consciousness” and it is this tension that produces social change. And as J-F pointed out, seemingly out of nowhere the 1956 Hungarian Revolution resulted in workers’ council taking over and controlling nearly all production within 48 hours. Similarly unanticipated, the 10,000,000-strong wildcat general strike in France in 1968 nearly toppled the DeGaulle government.

    As for the March Actions in 1921, they came about amidst the demoralization setting in with the defeat of the 1918-1919 German Revolution. Adventurist in the most negative sense? Perhaps. Don’t know what I would have done. Formed a steering committee to build for future actions? Or started a study group?

    Anyway, after the merger of the KPD and USPD in 1920 their direction was Leninist. So I retract my appreciation of their action. The real left communist grouping was the KAPD whose debates around the various factions (Essen & Berlin) were much more interesting. Especially the debates between Gorter and Pannekoek about the role of the party and determinist theories of the “death crisis” of capital.

    And I agree with Paul Mattick’s take on both the Russian and German Revolutions:

    “The Russian workers’ councils of 1905 and 1917 fought for a constitutional bourgeois democracy and for trade union goals such as the 8-hour day and higher wages. The German workers’ councils of 1918 gave up their momentarily-won political power in favor of the bourgeois National Assembly and the illusory evolutionary path of German social democracy. Whereas, in Russia, it was the objective unreadiness for a socialist revolution, in Germany it was the subjective unwillingness to realize socialism by revolutionary means.” (from interview with Paul Mattick in 1975)

    So I’m a “lazy doctrinaire”? For what, exactly?

    That day in the Mission was only one of many days of outreach in San Francisco. The contradiction was the above-mentioned ISOer who taught at Mission High for 7 or 8 years before he said he was even able to do a teach-in. As I said, that’s what you get from “meeting people where they’re at.” That same teacher pulled some bullshit about “turf” and told us to stay away. In our crew were former Mission High students who still had friends and know teachers and staff there. Additionally, we have 2 comrades who teach there. Some of the former students did classroom presentations and spoke to a group of parents taking ESL classes in the evening. Many had experience striking on May Day 2006 and were more than willing to do it again with their kids. The ISO teacher’s position that “they weren’t ready” was patently false. They had much more radical experience than he and his position of caution and restraint had a conservative effect. It’s only true that HE wasn’t ready. I happened to be passing through that part of the Mission on May 1, 2006 and saw lots of high school kids walking out — and they walked out at least one other time that week. What was that teacher doing? Trying to stop the kids from leaving because “they weren’t ready”?

    If you all can give counter examples of how passive, symbolic actions can radicalize people, I’m willing to listen. Otherwise, we’ll just have to agree-to-disagree.

    Anyway, if we had to chose a topic to debate I’d much rather discuss what’s been happening this week in Greece than the significance of what Lenin wrote in 1902. Especially since the kind of austerity the Greek working class is rebelling against is nearly identical to the attacks on the public sector in California right now.

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  52. I have trouble following some of the back and forth in the comments (damn some of you people are hilarious, and angry…!) and I am way too tired to know where to start replying to the article itself. For now I just want to say, this article is great. I hope to have more of substance to say one of these days.

    I do want to add this –

    Jamusa, you wrote that “winning some small victories, however reformist, can build the confidence of the class.” I agree, and I agree w/ your hesitation about the occupationist folk that AtS characterize as adventurists and I agree with what i think you’d like to see those people do instead.

    That said, respectfully I’d like to quibble with you on two points. First, just on terms, I think it’s important to distinguish reformist from ‘fighting for reform’ (likewise I think ‘gradualist’ gets abused in some circles — gradualists believe we can gradually eliminate capitalism without a major decisive break like a revolution; people can advocate for gradual changes currently without actually being gradualists). Reformists think that we can eliminate capitalism by reform, or reform it into being okay. Lots of us don’t agree with either of those but we still fight for reforms and think people ought to. So I’d say we shouldn’t give ground to any view that ‘fighting for reform’ = reformism.

    Second thing – I do think that victories can build the confidence of the class but I think it’s worth distinguishing different sources of confidences. There’s the *what* of the victory (the reform we win). There’s the *that* of the victory (the fact that we made those fuckers do something they weren’t inclined to). And there’s the *how* and the *who* of the victory (the experiences of the fight, the people we engaged with in the process and the relationships we come away with afterward). In my experience, admittedly pretty limited and small scale mostly around stuff on the job, the first is cool but doesn’t inspire a whole lot. “Those people over there won better stuff” can definitely be motivating but as much because it says “we have it worse than some others!” as it says “we could get more!” I mean to say, in my experience this feeds anger at the present situation more than hope for a change, even though those are related. That said, the fact of winning is SUPER inspiring, especially for people who live through it. I can think of stuff that didn’t end all that well places I’ve organized at work but along the way we wrote some memories about standing up to the boss that have carried me through some dark time.

    I also find that the experience of the fight and the relationships that come out of it can carry people pretty far, again even when we don’t win. Obviously we want to win… I say all this in part just out of a need to keep my head up — our side loses a lot so I need to find silver linings in the losses in order to keep motivated. There’s also some Luxemburg quote about this, from the little of her that I’ve read, I can’t remember it exactly but something about how failed efforts have still been important to laying the groundwork for working class organizations.

    Anyway, great article AtS and interesting discussion.

    take care,

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