To salute the life of Clara Fraser, dynamic radical organizer and FSP co-founder, the Freedom Socialist reprints this 1994 column. It is one of several in a series entitled Socialism for Skeptics, which tackles with sharp humor and sane hope the mockery and disbelief of cynics, then and now.
My previous column ended by posing a dilemma: The downtrodden people who need change the most seem to spend their energy sniping at each other, figuratively or for real. A Die-Hard Skeptic (DHS) takes this for granted.
DHS: The whole globe looks more and more like Rwanda on a bad day. The only way half of the world’s citizens can exist side by side is as corpses. People this badly divided will never come together to overthrow the system, no matter how rotten it is.
Me: Surprise — Unity happens! Sometimes overnight, to the amazement of everybody but Marxists.
Solidarity steals onto the stage unannounced. Togetherness is provoked by too-long suppressed fury — fury at the shared whip of maltreatment, the mutual endless years of exploitation, and the common chronic dehumanization and insult.
All of a sudden, when the bosses or the government go one little step too far, an apparently spontaneous eruption occurs. All the workers previously feuding over race and sex/sexuality and religious or national or cultural differences, and the normal menu of ego wars that rage on any job and in any community, coalesce suddenly, caught up in a euphoria of sister/brotherhood forged by a joint reaction to the guys with their heels on everybody’s necks.
The folks in the plants and fields, in the offices and shops, may not understand this reflex themselves. But it is as inexorable as a law of nature; it is a social imperative. As inevitable as night following day, class has conquered over all.
Oppression forges resistance in spite of and across the deep chasms separating the resisters. Because when people are galvanized into fighting back, they desperately seek allies, and they sublimate previous antagonisms as they learn to work together in the upsurge against the newly identified real enemy.
This is a fact, not a utopian dream. And this fact is the engine of history.
If fusion didn’t happen, we wouldn’t be here talking about it. How do you think all our vaunted freedoms were won?
The creation of oneness out of division is what produces strikes, mass voter protests, and ultimately revolutions. The essence of human nature — its communal impulse, its fundamental habit of cooperation for survival — reasserts itself over transitory, superficial and reactionary centrifugal forces that break things apart and atomize what used to be melded. Humanity triumphs over its failures and rises to its greatest heights as it seeks justice and relief from affliction.
Note the triumphal victory over legal apartheid in South Africa. Note, even, the absolute solidarity of the baseball strike, in which players who make $5 million and players who make $50,000 are hanging tough together.
And people never forget the thrill of marching hand in hand with comrades they hated only yesterday.
DHS: But watch what happens after the excitement of the action wears off. Everything reverts to the status quo ante and nothing lasting is achieved. For every antiwar fighter or Black Powerite or racial or sexual liberationist who still has a shred of idealism visible, I can name you 20 who are getting rich peddling barbecue sauce or real estate or new ways to buff your bod.
Me: Aha! But this is precisely where the role of a party comes in. When a revolt takes place without a party or ahead of a party or behind the back of a party, you’re right: the movement will not endure, huge errors of strategy and tactics will be made, key lessons will not be drawn, and front-line insurrectionists will not grow into leaders for all seasons.
Only the revolutionary party can ensure that activists and agitators become political professionals geared and educated for the long haul. Only the party can help the militant strike or sit-in or electoral upheaval take the next leaps forward and aim for state power. Only the party can extend isolated insurgencies into constant, concerted mobilizations for the total revamping of society.
Any putative leftist or progressive who sneers at parties and scoffs at vanguards is revealing deep-seated hostility toward revolution and socialism.
A transformed reality will not be concocted out of literary documents and good intentions and dreams of paradise, but out of mortals who build an instrument that is capable of organizing the overthrow of the existing government, the creation of a new structure, and the administration of a new course.
A true humanist and visionary needs to embrace the party as the midwife who brings to birth a brave new world.
Readers are invited to buy Fraser’s 10-part Socialism for Skeptics series, originally published in the Freedom Socialist newspaper, in booklet form at redletterpress.org/redreaders.shtml#skeptics.