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An Open Letter Regarding the LA Social Forum and Leftist Organizing

by Tom Louie Wednesday, Jul. 23, 2008 at 7:42 AM

I didn't attend the LASF, but Michael (Novick) seems justified in his disappointment about the makeup of the forum. All movements are helped by the central participation and prioritization of the grass-roots, front-line community defense movements.

In LA, that would include immigrants, workers, anti-police brutality activists, community control advocates, the South Central farmers, and many others. If these communities did not participate in the LASF, then that is indeed a lack which cannot be made up simply with "better outreach."

Where I disagree with Michael, however, is on the long-range goals of a broad social forum. To prioritize the delegitimization of the empire, and to openly work to undermine the empire, as opposed to working for reforms within the system -- that is a revolutionary agenda. Revolution, the sweeping away of the imperialist and racist power structure, sounds good. But how many grass-roots groups are willing to commit themselves to a revolutionary agenda? Especially in these days of risk-free surveillance, military tribunals and Blackwater. If I am ignorant of the revolutionary aspirations of the grass roots -- and I could well be out of touch -- then please enlighten me. But my intuition tells me that most front-line groups might not want to take the risk of being openly revolutionary. Am I wrong here?

Perhaps one reason why people prioritize reforms within the system is that reforms, at times, have directly resulted in improvements in people's lives. Michael asks, rhetorically, what the environmental movement has to show for 40 years of activism. Well, in my own short lifetime, environmentalism has resulted in clearer skies above Los Angeles, fewer smog alerts, several endangered species and threatened ecosystems brought back from the brink, and greater consciousness and greater efforts, public and private, to reduce waste and humanity's carbon footprint. Of course the environmental movement has not reached complete victory yet, but who can doubt that the current crisis would be much worse if not for the environmental movement's 40-year struggle?

For that matter, Michael may as well turn his rhetorical questions back on himself, and ask what the anti-imperialist/anti-racist revolutionary movement has accomplished in the last 40 years. Nobody's movement has "won" yet! To hold legitimate social movements up to the unrealistic standard of "winning" within a 40-year time period, I feel, is disrespectful to the efforts of all who have struggled and sacrificed for the past 40 years.

Another thing: there is not going to be a revolution. I wish the conditions were there, but they're not. They weren't there in 1968 either, for the reason that revolutions cannot take place without at least the acquiescence of the majority. You can take poll after poll and you will find that most people still believe in "America," whatever that means, and still place their faith in elections, candidates and reform legislation. "America" has been better than most empires at co-opting revolutionary pressures, partly by making possible a standard of living which even the poor enjoy, compared to other countries. We're still too damn comfortable. You could probably get most "Americans" to support sweeping changes, like controls on corporations, abolition of the Electoral College, national health care, etc. But revolution, in the sense of sweeping away the power structure and its institutions? Not in the cards.

There may be populations and sectors within "America" which may be in a revolutionary situation, but there are not enough of them, in numbers and power, to change all of society. The best you could get under current conditions would be some separatist movements. Maybe these movements could succeed; maybe that would be a good thing.

Anyone who ignores the non-revolutionary situation of the current context is unrealistic at best and elitist at worst. For example, it is legitimate to call Obama out for his vote on FISA, and for other missteps which he may have made for cynical reasons. It is ultraleftist elitism to regard Obama as nothing more than a stalking horse for the same old US imperialism, and to deny the importance of the movement his candidacy has spawned, on the Internet and elsewhere. Tom Hayden is right on that count. "Anti-imperialism" is not going to win this election, but we may have a chance to end the Iraq war next year.

Am I arrogant in making these pronouncements? Prove it to me. Show me that revolution is possible and reforms are a waste of time.

The best revolutionary activity I can think of would be the construction of alternative communities and institutions, which will be prepared to step in if or when this 232-year old system crumbles. Co-ops and communities with participatory democracy. Worker-run factories. Entire towns where oppression and exploitation are outlawed and produce no net environmental waste. That's what would give me hope.

Respectfully yours,

Tom Louie

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