December 14, 2006

Looking behind the curtain in Salem ....

"What do we see today? At every recent election, the country puts me in mind of a jar of water --- turn the jar and all the water comes out. One election, all the Democratic vote drops out and goes over to the Republicans; the next year all the Republican vote drops out and goes over to the Democrats. The workers are moving backward and forward; they are dissatisfied; they have lost confidence in the existing parties they know of, and they are seeking desparately for the party of their class. At such a season, it is the duty of us revolutionists to conduct ourselves in such manner as to cause our organization to be better and better known, its principles more and more clearly understood, its integrity and firmness more and more respected and trusted....."

Sound familiar? In spite of it sounding quite a bit like the present day, it may be the slightly formal writing style that is the clue it was not written recently. In fact, it is from "Reform or Revolution," an 1896 address by Daniel De Leon of the Socialist Labor Party.

De Leon goes on to explain that after observing the modern state and its current primary function (to work to hold down the working class), the anarchist shouts, "Away with all central directing authority!" De Leon states that what socialism says is: "Away with the economic system that alters the beneficient functions of the central direction authority from an aid to production into a means of oppression."

More from De Leon:

... the primary characteristic that "distinguishes the revolutionist from the reformer" is that the reformer "spurns organization."

... the program of revolution "demands the unconditional surrender of the capitalist system and its system of wage slavery." (....ahh!)

"... there must be unity of action." "You will never find the revolutionist putting himself above the organization...the cry of 'Bossism' is as absent from the revolutionist's lips as it is a feature on those of the reformer."

The theme of sticking to the point, of keeping organizationally intact, is a thread throughout the thoughts of De Leon in this article.

And a final piece from De Leon to ponder:
"Whenever a change leaves the internal mechanism untouched, we have reform. Whenever the internal mechanism is changed, we have revolution...Of course, no internal change is possible without external manifestations. Therein lies one of the pitfalls into which the reformers tumble. (Reformers) ... are satisfied with mere external changes without looking behind the curtain..."

Thanks to Cde. Rossi for researching and copying packets of information on socialism and working class history in which this article can be found.


December 10, 2006

Salem's Human Rights Day

Three of us from Willamette Reds attended the Salem Human Rights Day event at Salem's First United Methodist Church.

During the first part of the program we were paired with an individual we didn't know and asked to listen to and then speak about someone we admired. The woman I was paired with told me a moving story about her thirty-six-year-old single-mother daughter who has taken in a homeless man on her own initiative. That is indeed something to admire. When it was my turn I told her about Tito and ex-Yugoslavia. I tried to communicate what I believe really tore socialist Yugoslavia apart--the legacy of the struggle against the occupation of the country and the crushing foreign debt the country was forced to take on after the war.

Partners changed and I drew Salem's mayor. The exercise then given to us was to talk about and listen to our partners talk about what we're doing for human rights. The mayor told me that she is working hard on the police review board and also on hiring of Spanish-speaking people and people of color to fill vacant city jobs in an attempt to build a city administration and bureaucracy which looks more like the city. Its a worthy goal and I hope that we get there. I told our mayor about the Palestinian solidarity work I do; she seemed mildly interested and then a bit shaken and she made a polite exit.

One of the people in our group told her partner that one person she admired greatly is Leslie Frane, SEIU Local 503 Executive Director, and she tried to engage her partner in a discussion on unionism. It was probably the only time during the event that unions or workplace issues were mentioned.

The second half of the event was a kind of community speak-out moderated by a prison warden. It seemed bizarre to me that a prison warden would moderate a community speak-out on human rights. It seemed more bizarre that a leading activist in the Latino community embraced him and had great things to say about him at the event. This speaker used his speak-out time to urge participation in the political system and to compliment the mayor and other officials present; it was the kind of intentionally non-threatening speech which tells you that major issues and struggles are being avoided and that hands are being extended in order to curry and trade political favors.

Among the speakers were several people who focused their anger on the Department of Human Services (DHS). We can read this any one of several ways and our conclusions may be contradictory but not necessarily wrong.

It might be hard to find people who deal with DHS in crisis situations who appreciate the case workers and the agency's mission. These are, after all, crisis situations in which someone is usually in need of intervention and help. That intervention and help will never come quickly enough or efficiently enough for the victims. The caseworkers are burdened with paperwork, stressed almost to the breaking point, held to unrealistic work performance standards and are forced to maintain a level of professional distance for their own protection. Their job is to patch up and police a system which is in constant crisis--a "system" which extends from the courts and state and county agencies, through the private sector and charities, through the legislature and into families. That system has its origins in the Protestant morality of the nineteeth century; few people today will recognize themselves or find the solution to their problems there. The protests against DHS, however honest they may have been, point more to an unfolding social crisis in our region than they do to bad policies at DHS. The people who spoke against DHS did so as individuals and so are not accountable to anyone for presenting the full facts of their situations.

We were fortunate to hear a woman speak about inmates on Oregon's death row and a Native American-Latino fellow speak about borders, racism and war in a soulfully historic context. We also heard from representatives of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and a fellow who spoke about winning anti-discrimination coverage for short, differently-sized and mentally ill people. Passing mention was made of neighborhood struggles in northeast Salem.

I'm not sure what the 50-75 people present got out of the event today. The crowd tended to be older, whiter and better off than most of Salem is. The prison warden moderator closed the event by saying that he hoped that any differences which had arisen during the meeting could be talked out and that the event was worthwhile if it moved anyone present to make the world or Salem a better place.

We can do better.