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Don't fight and you'll never win

By Paul D'Amato | November 19, 2004 | Page 13

THE PERIOD of the last three-and-a-half decades has been described as "one-sided class war." It has been a period of massive transfer of wealth from the bottom to the top of society. It has a been a period of declining unions, and of those unions accepting, with little resistance, waves of concessions that have reduced wages, benefits and bargaining power--with only sporadic and inadequate fightbacks.

The one-sided class war has also been accompanied by big cuts in social services for the poor, for children, for the elderly, and for the unemployed. And it has been a period of increasing punishment--of replacing job and education spending with increased spending to build more prisons to house the poor and destitute.

These massive shifts have been buttressed ideologically by various scapegoating techniques that have demonized sections of the poor and working class--Black "welfare cheating" single moms, young Black "criminals" and "job-stealing" immigrants. The poor and working class have also been encouraged to blame themselves--those who don't "make it" are to blame for their own alleged lack of trying.

This economic, political and ideological assault on the working class--essentially a reaction to the radical upsurge of the 1960s and early 1970s--was pushed through by both Democratic and Republican administrations.

The concessionary bargaining continues to this day, its sharpest edge pointed at airline workers' wages and pensions. The message is always the same: Surrender something now to salvage what you have--or you might lose it all. And the result has been that once the concessionary floodgates are opened, and the bosses are convinced they can squeeze workers and nobody squeezes back, they keep coming back for more. Give an inch...

The same logic has been operating in the political and ideological field. Democratic Party politics have been dominated by the idea that if we vote for them, the one-sided class war won't be as devastating. Clinton signed the bill dismantling welfare and then won re-election on the promise that he could reverse some of the new welfare bill's worst provisions!

It's not a question of fighting for anything, but merely the pace of our surrender.

In his campaign speeches, Ralph Nader's vice presidential running mate Peter Camejo put it this way: The Republicans come out and announce they want across-the-board 20 percent pay cuts. The Democrat comes out and says, No! That's exploitation. I propose a 10 percent cut. But as soon as we accept the 10 percent cut because its "better" than the 20, we've already given up the other 10, because we've conceded that we're ready to take poison.

The same applies to the gay marriage debate. The conclusion of the liberal Democrats (and even some gay organizations) is that it was a mistake to fight for gay marriage because it "provoked" a right-wing reaction. For those with short memories, this is what is known as a struggle--one side demands something, and the other resists it.

The civil rights movement didn't quit in the face of massive reaction--it kept fighting. Democrats like Robert Kennedy tried to convince activists to "cut out this Freedom Rider and sitting-in shit and concentrate on voter registration" in exchange for "a tax exemption."

It's true that if you don't fight for anything, you won't provoke any resistance. But that will only signal that it is a one-sided war--the kind of war that the side which is mobilizing and fighting wins.

Leon Trotsky made a similar point to those who argued in 1930s France that organizing workers' militias to fight the fascists would merely "provoke" them into more attacks. "These accusations," Trotsky wrote, "reduce themselves, in the final analysis, to the profound thought that if the oppressed balk, the oppressors will not be obliged to beat them."

The lesson is that when the right attacks, we should organize and resist, not surrender our positions without fighting.

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