First, full disclosure: I am reporting from my safe position behind an information table for the League of Revolutionaries for a New America (LRNA). I say this because I want to make clear that I only had the opportunity to attend one of the sessions, so I am not giving anything like a rounded impression of all that went on. Also, I’m confining my remarks to some publications I sold or bought during the Forum, and why I think they are important. On Tuesday afternoon, while waiting in the lobby of the COBO Hall convention center, where the bulk of the events took place, I had a chance to catch up with General Baker, one of the founders of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers
General Baker (photo courtesy of Speakers for a New America)
(LRBW). Gen was one of the first to refuse induction to fight in Vietnam, famously proclaiming that he would be happy to serve if the army deployed to fight for the rights of Blacks in Alabama or in Detroit. Now a retired auto worker and LRNA member, Gen has been advocating for the rights of those destroyed by the implosion of the auto industry. He calls them part of a growing class of dispossessed, a new class permanently separated from connection, through the “point of production,” to capital. While he makes clear Detroit (and the world) is facing something new in history, he respects the legacy of the LRBW. To this end, he showed me two remarkable documents. He is selling DVD copies of Finally Got The News a documentary of the formation of the LRBW which creates a compelling visual excitement about the period. (The film was made in 1970 by the Detroit NewsReel group and reviewed in Cineaste by Dan Georgeakas), To complement this cinematic recreation of the LRBW era, Gen also has a cd that contains hundreds of pages of the print documents that provide a treasure trove of research materials unavailable elsewhere. Later, at the LRNA table, Gen brought down posters of the original DRUM (Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement) slate for union election, a poster which sold out at the convention. Finally Got the News is available for $20 and the Documents for $25 from the People’s Tribune. One of Gen’s retiree colleagues, who goes by the nickname Waistline, wrote a pamphlet welcome to Detroit which became the hit of the People’s Tribune table next to me. I picked up a copy, was immediately pulled in and read it, and was delighted with what I read. When Waistline came down to the table to autograph copies, I jumped in line to tell him how much I enjoyed it, as much for the engaging writing as for the information it conveyed. Detroit: A History of Struggle, A Vision of the Future lays out its perspective from the first page: “Detroit is the rise and fall of the heavy metal — the industrial working class. Our rise was as spectacular as our fall. Our rebirth will change human history.” Waistline’s reborn Detroit does not come from urban gardens, though that may play a part. It comes from a class becoming conscious of itself in response to the economic polarization of society, and organizing itself against the corporate takeover of the government. Waistline’s report comes from the grass roots, from below, from analyzed experience, not from an academic think tank. The pamphlet is available for $3 from the People’s Tribune web site. A couple of years ago I saw a film that simultaneously made my blood boil and chilled me to the bone. Called The Water Front, this documentary showed how people living by the side of one of the largest bodies of fresh water in the world had no access to drinking water. The people were residents of Detroit, the victims of privatization of public resources. The
Image from "The Water Front"
consequences were huge water bills and utilities shut-offs. Michigan Welfare Rights Organization (MWRO) spearheaded the fight to preserve the right to clean water, as captured on that film. Marian Kramer was one of the organizers of the US Social Forum and the water issue was prominent in discussions leading up to the Forum. I was delighted to find on our literature table a pamphlet inspired by the Detroit struggle, Water Wars — Coming Soon to Your Town!, written by good friends Steven Miller and Danny Alexander. According to the authors, “Humanity is up against a global system of private property that is doing a really good job of wrecking the world and not much else.” Miller has reported elsewhere extensively on how private property is destroying education; Alexander is intimately familiar with the way the recording industry violates the rights of listeners to and performers of music, in the name of private property. Here they extend their already detailed knowledge to the privatization of our natural resources, something that faces many cities. In Chicago, we have lived with encroachments on our public services, and the mayor is threatening to privatize water, the consequences of which we can predict from this excellent pamphlet, available for $3 from the LRNA web site. Another LRNA pamphlet on our table that was extremely popular was entitled Foreclosures: The Reasons, The Results, and The Remedy. The authors of this pamphlet are not willing to accept that banks need to be bailed out. They are also acutely aware that nationalizing the banks can simply lead to protection for the banks. In their words, “The struggle for bank nationalization is therefore inseparable from a struggle to remove our current government which is run by and for corporations and replace it by one that is run by and for the dispossessed who are now the majority of our people.” This pamphlet is available for $2 from the LRNA site. Both Water Wars and Foreclosures include a good list of sources and further readings. Last, but not least, Rally Comrades! (the political paper of the LRNA) produced a selection of articles over the last two years which, taken together, provide an excellent estimate of our current situation. It grounds the concept of revolution not solely as a mental construct, an idea around which people fight (although new ideas play an extremely important role). Instead, On the Edge of History starts with a understanding of a decisive point in the economic revolution that takes place independently of the will of human beings. The editors posit that unlike previous revolutionary periods, the motion of this revolution is toward a cooperative society. It is, however, a motion that capitalism is resisting. The interesting contribution that this pamphlet makes is that just as the existence of the working class is undermined by laborless production, so too is its contradictory pole, the capitalist class. The reorganization of society must take place — but will it be around the distribution of goods and services according to need? Or will fascism reorganize society to protect private property at the expense of the people? This pamphlet is available for $3 from the LRNA site as well. Taken together, this series of pamphlets and materials goes beyond the question of individual or small group defensive, survival patterns which our political system encourages. There is no doubt, for example, that people or communities faced with food that is poisoned or not available will turn to cooperative or individual gardening to help themselves survive. However the key question left unresolved by these defensive measures is related to class, the state, and the rule of the corporations. Whether we are talking about the history of Detroit; foreclosures, housing and the banking crisis; or privatization of public resources, all roads lead in the same direction. If the people do not take over the corporations, then fascism will overtake the people.