Regroupment, Refounding and the Arc of Resistance

I

n the decade of our founding, people on the left began talking to each other across ideological lines, in ways that hadn’t happened for a long time – with a common realization that the “party-building” of the previous years had effectively collapsed, and had been abusive in significant ways to the human beings committed to it. In this climate of assessment and inquiry, Solidarity’s founding organizations brought about a small-scale regroupment, initially including three groups with origins in Trotskyist traditions, a caucus inside the Socialist Party and one socialist-feminist collective. The project was daring for the time: to rebuild a left socialist presence, which was threatening to disappear (or alienate future generations), on the basis of a rudimentary set of shared revolutionary precepts.

The basis of Solidarity’s daring was admittedly narrow. It was rooted in Trotskyism. The idea was to overcome decades of debilitating splits that stubbornly maintained separate organizations – based perhaps most centrally on different characterizations of the nature of the Soviet state, but also on other analytical, strategic or even tactical differences – and get to the positions we agreed on. Solidarity’s founders also looked to other developments, like the fusing of several survivors of the New Communist Movement into FRSO, as signs pointing to the possibility of a broader “regroupment” (as we then called it) of the revolutionary left. Later, in 1991, Solidarity closely watched as hundreds of Communist Party members, rebelling against the lack of democracy in their party – and clearly inspired by the openness of the Gorbachev era -- founded the Committees of Correspondence. For a time, some in Solidarity became dual members of the Committees of Correspondence. We thought that the demise of the Soviet Union might change the possibility of a regrouped left – with those who had looked to the Soviet Union more open to the idea that democracy is an essential component in constructing socialism. It is difficult to imagine a vibrant U.S. left that does not have the ability to learn from lessons and experiences gained by various left organizations and individuals across ideological borders. While Solidarity always prioritized having our members rooted in the struggle of aspiring social movements, it made sense in the 1980s to hold out hope for a broader regroupment of the already organized revolutionary left as the next step in a revitalized U.S. left. At our 1986 founding conference we came out explicitly in support of these kinds of regroupment efforts. We still are.

More recently, after the limited momentum for left regroupment seemed to have played out, other organizations – notably our comrades in FRSO/OSCL – raised the term “left refoundation” to highlight the role of a small but growing U.S. “social movement left” in cohering a vibrant, combative, revolutionary force.

The two words – regroupment and refoundation – mean different things, but the process we are looking at is actually a combination. The exact proportion of one in relationship to the other is impossible for us to predict. We should pursue both, and let natural processes determine how the balance works out. Today, the social movement left that actually exists suffers greatly because there is no organized revolutionary movement worthy of the name. The organized revolutionary movement suffers equally because there is no mass social movement left worthy of the name. Each, in its future development, is dependent on the other. We favor, therefore, a “regroupment/refoundation” perspective which pays attention to both sides of the equation.

The decade of Solidarity’s founding began with the emergence of Solidarnosc, an independent Polish union and nationalist response to Soviet domination, which was set back and forced underground by the imposition of martial law. In our founding statement Solidarity analyzed the Polish union as representing “the high point in the struggle for socialist freedom in the Eastern bloc.” (Section 1) We saw its development could point the way to “the possibility of genuinely socialist societies without bosses or bureaucrats” (Section II). Additionally, we celebrated the founding of South Africa’s trade union federation, COSATU, as “the most dramatic example of a newly arising proletarian movement with revolutionary possibilities.” Along with the Polish and South African examples, we saw the growth of a vibrant and democratic labor movement in Brazil and Mexico as the best hope for repudiating debts that burdens so much of the Third World. (Section II)

Within 18 mouths of our founding, a new focus of resistance emerged, when the First Palestinian Intifada erupted in December 1987. A tremendous mass mobilization resting on the strength and creativity of popular organizations – many of them women-led – in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, this uprising stirred hopes that the Palestinian people take concrete steps toward their aspirations for national independence and freedom from occupation. These hopes were defeated by three factors: the overwhelming brutality of the Israeli response, with full U.S. support, to an unarmed popular movement; the decision of the external Palestinian leadership to stake the future on international diplomatic maneuvering, rather than putting all its resources into strengthening the mass struggle; and the disastrous change in the world political context with the First Gulf War in 1991. This was followed by the “Oslo peace process,” which proved to be an enormous failure and step backward because it rested on two fundamentally false premises: a) that Israel would take any meaningful steps to halt settlements, release prisoners and relieve the horrible burdens of daily life in the Occupied Territories, and b) that the Palestinian people would surrender in the face of overwhelming Israeli-U.S. domination.

The collapse of Oslo, the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Rabin, the re-ascendance of Israel’s hard right, and the last-minute negotiating debacle at Camp David under Bill Clinton’s watch produced the Second Palestinian Intifada. This stage of the struggle, much more militaristic and less driven by popular mobilization than the first, has taken a far higher toll in Israeli casualties but imposed an overwhelming burden of destruction and immiseration in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, especially Gaza. The imperialist mythology that the terms of surrender can be imposed on Palestine by massive U.S. and Israeli firepower has never been more destructive and bankrupt than at the present moment.

Less than a decade into Reagan / Thatcher (but also Volker / Carter) neoliberalism and restructuring, our expectations of a vibrant and stronger left turned out to be misplaced. The ‘90s brought forth a period in which not just Stalinism, but socialism, social-democracy and even Keynesian liberalism would seem discredited by the force of an energetic and neoliberal capitalism. The fall of Communist Party-ruled states in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe did not open the door to libratory socialism in Poland or East Germany. In fact the possibilities quickly disappeared beneath the boots of a triumphant capitalism. Reagan’s “low intensity warfare” caused enough violence and disruption in Central America so that whatever the terms of the peace agreements in El Salvador and Guatemala, the status quo won. In Nicaragua a combination of U.S.-armed contras and the Sandinista government’s inability to understand the issues of the rural or indigenous populations led to the 1990 electoral victory of right-wing forces. Although there was the hope that the FSLN could analyze its electoral defeat and rebuild itself, it chose instead to build a leadership clique around Daniel Ortega and consolidate itself around its business interests.

By the beginning of the ‘90s organized labor and progressive popular movements, instead of rebounding from the doldrums of the Reagan years, went deeper into hibernation. In these objective circumstances, prospects for left regroupment had dimmed – the forces and circumstances needed to bring us together were outweighed by forces that demoralized the left and drove many organizations to hold on to what they had. The organization-to-organization regroupment project as we conceived it stalled out, despite sporadic efforts through the years.

Among the most serious consequences of the failure to deepen the process was our inability to alter the racial composition of Solidarity, whose membership was at its founding overwhelmingly white and remains so today. A vibrant process of regroupment among surviving left formations of the period could have brought into being an organization with the basis for the participation and leadership of revolutionaries of color that is so necessary to socialist refoundation.

The founding of Solidarity was the product of the actual experiences of members of the ‘60s-‘70s generation. Whatever innovation and departure, it occurred within the framework of a socialist left gravitating around well-defined currents on a world scale that were the product of the 20th century experience. Solidarity was a corrective “structural adjustment” of socialist organization and action to the realities of the times. More than twenty years later the challenge for Solidarity – and the other surviving socialist groups – is starkly posed: How can we contribute to the renewal of a socialist movement in today’s realities?

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