Saturday, October 23, 2010

Revolutionary Piggybacking

I'm reading Max Elbaum's excellent book Revolution in the Air, which I can't recommend highly enough. It's not the story of Marxoid Maoist groups but the story of what folks were doing before they solidified and rigidified into the groups that we now know and love, and they were doing some pretty good work despite the overall flaws in their political ideology. One thing, though, has stuck out in reading the accounts of these groups: the reliance of white activists recruiting in civil rights movement derived groups of people of color for members as opposed to doing the heavy lifting of getting white workers to be revolutionary.

There was a huge emphasis on making the new movement, the New Communist Movement as it's called, inclusive, but it seems to me that this was in a sense a dodge because half the work in recruiting people of color was already done through non-Marxist organizations who had started and maintained the various civil rights movements. Folks who were people of color were already energized. It was white workers, particularly white male workers, who weren't in on it and who the right then as now was courting for support, who were the constituency that needed the most attention in terms of organizing, and folks seemed to shy away from that task. Perhaps it was a measure of comfort: easier for white middle and upper class activists to recruit in foreign communities of color than it is for them to go to their own communities and confront people who might have called them on bullshit. It could be said that white organizing in general wasn't a problem, since so many people came from the white middle class, but that only when working class was added to the label did organizing whites suddenly become something contentious, something that people debated about whether or not it should be done.

To me, this seems like a huge cop out. At the most extreme level you have the pre-Prairie Fire Weathermen who seem to have totally sold out the white working class. The challenge isn't to go along with the current, where things are easy, for instance linking the civil rights struggle with movements for national liberation, but to go against it and do what folks would rather not do, in this case organizing white workers who might be distrustful of the New Left, distrustful of anti-Vietnam War organizing, distrustful of the Women's Movement. Calls for inclusivity shouldn't conceal weaknesses in constituency: sure, white middle class college students may have been over represented, but to counter that over representation with recruiting people of color who are workers without simultaneously recruiting white workers just creates a new imbalance, one which only appears to not exist if you're a white middle class person who doesn't particularly like the working class when it doesn't have some sort of exotic label attached to it---i.e. black or other minority culture. Exoticism and fetishism of the other may have possibly played a part, but again, reality is often not romantic, and it has to be dealt with if a strong coalition that won't fracture is to be built.

*on edit: I could add to this that there seems to be a stereotype among folks even today that white male workers are all the type of people who are "rednecks". This is absolutely false and is simply another way of discounting people who may be harder to organize than groups of people who are already mobilized.

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