Lonesome Hobo Economics – On the Road at the CoC

7-27-09, 8:59 am

The Committees of Correspondence for Socialism and Democracy has just concluded its 6th National Convention in San Francisco, CA. The CoC was founded in 1994 as a coalition of socialist-oriented groupings from a number of organizations, including a large section from the Communist Party following a split in that organization after the collapse of the USSR. It was a gathering of color! Multi-racial and multinational. There were guests from Germany, El Salvador, South Africa, France, Venezuela and Vietnam. There were gays and straights. 200 Men and women very active in a wide range of social, political and labor constituencies.

'Build the progressive majority and a socialist future' was the theme of the conference. I will get to that, but the truth is I came out to see old friends more than to engage in political discourse. One friend in particular – Charlene Mitchell – was honored on Thursday for her lifetime of devotion to expanding democracy, to the struggle for equality, and to the advance of socialist ideals. Charlene Mitchell was the first African American woman to run for President of the Unites States, which she did in 1968 on the ticket of the Communist Party of the US. She also played an historic role in the worldwide defense of Angela Davis in 1970, who was targeted and framed for murder during a period when more than one police force was seeking to exterminate anyone connected with the Black Panther Party. Angela Davis was acquitted, and Ms. Mitchell went on to help found the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, which mounted many campaigns against racist and repressive attacks. Courage, persistence, faith, and a sharp mind for both politics and human character – Charlene has mentored many people over her long life, this writer included. It was a joy to participate in the tribute to her. Viva Charlene!!!

Now, on the substance: I confess it normally requires a certain astral patience to sit through left-wing conferences. And, in recent years, I have acquired a strong allergy to dogmatic talk about socialism, revolution, etc. However, the economic crisis, the global climate change crisis, and the quality of the movement that elected Barack Obama have accomplished what a thousand manifestos could not: they have proven that market failures of capitalism in certain areas such as finance, health care, housing, environmental policy, and retirement security make incremental steps toward socialism matters of necessity that do not require one to have the slightest familiarity with socialist 'doctrine' in order to recognize. In fact, the ways in which the imperatives of greater socialization make themselves apparent in health care, financial regulation, retirement security, employment for all who seek work, and and large-scale intervention to both prepare for and reverse trends in climate change, argue strongly for an entirely new political vocabulary. The new vocabulary must disenthrall the tasks of economic recovery and progress from sterile cold-war, and Vietnam era, left-right rhetoric.

While it is difficult to leave behind some long-standing left-wing political categories, and plow fresh ground for a new generation of socialist renewal, the CoC made important progress. Carl Davidson calls this process 'imagining 21st Century socialism.' Most important, in this writer's view, was the focus on defining and and elaborating the principles and programs upon which progressive majorities can be built in all arenas of politics: local, state and national. For the left to think in terms of majorities is the single greatest improvement arising from the defeat of the reactionary 'Reagan coalition' of which George W. Bush was only the latest and most sordid chapter.

Many challenges remain: there were not enough youth at the conference. The electoral and unemployment issues were under-covered. And the right balance between 'socialist' ideals and the progressive majority agenda is still wobbly, partly because the new situation is – really NEW! Nonetheless, workshops on socialist education, international solidarity, economic and social justice, climate change, peace and labor were well attended, and many energetic ideas were shared.

Its happening! Socialism's reconnection with broad-based democratic change in response to the crisis is bearing fruit!