First Published: In two parts in the Berkeley Barb, January 27 and February 3, 1967.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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(The following article is written by Bob Avakian, staff writer for Ramparts Magazine, who is a CNP candidate for the Berkeley City Council. He is presenting his own “sectarian” view, and does not necessarily represent the views of the BARB).
Most of us in the “New Left” came to radical politics out of predominantly moral concerns: we revolted, existentially, against the exploitation and oppression of black people; the persecution of political minorities; and the incineration of Vietnamese peasants in the name of freedom and democracy.
We rebelled against the alien apparatus of the multiversity, the mass media, and the power structure in general, which leave us no room to be human.
In response to these atrocities, we have gone South to work in the Civil Rights Movement; we have marched in the streets to protest American foreign policy; and we have attempted, by strikes and sit-ins, to disrupt the “normal functioning” of the university bureaucracy.
It has by now become clear to the vast majority of us that moral outrage and personal witness are not enough; that, if we want to end poverty, discrimination, police brutality, imperialism and mass manipulation, we must find ways to educate and organize ourselves and others to oppose the system which perpetrates these evils.
If we want to move people who are not yet radicals, we must begin by appealing to them in language and through vehicles that are at least comprehensible and, in some sense, relevant to them.
Those of us in the Community for New Politics (CNP) the organization that developed out of the Congressional campaign for Robert Scheer believe that, in this period of American history, a tightly-disciplined revolutionary Marxist vanguard Party, if it does little besides preach to the “workers” out “there,” is neither comprehensible nor relevant to anyone but its members (and, to some degree, the FBI).
We do believe that there is a need at this time for a broad coalition of radicals of all persuasions and left-leaning liberals. We further believe that radical electoral politics that is, campaigns whose primary function is to educate people about the causes of war, racism and exploitation and to relate these to immediate issues and to the structure and forms of power in this society provide a means of moving people around specific issues, of building an alliance between insurgent groups, and of formulating a radical program.
It is this kind of campaign that the CNP is conducting in the Berkeley City Elections this spring. For several months we have worked with people representing the diverse communities within Berkeley to develop a program that will speak to local issues and, at the same time, relate them to the larger crises of American society. It is both arrogant and politically backward to run a campaign for city office without attempting to deal with the immediate problems that confront the people in the city.
The major failure of the left in this country, up to this point, has not been the impurity of its ideology, but its inability to meet people’s needs on a day-to-day basis. People do not desert radicals primarily because our slogans are “incorrect,” but because people have to live; and this means, in most cases, compromising with power at some point.
A City Council does possess a significant measure of power a means to confront immediate problems, and a prestigious platform for addressing the need for structural change in this country.
The CNP campaign for City Council is a serious attempt to elect radicals to positions of power. Four of Berkeley’s eight Council seats are up for election this April; the CNP is running three candidates Professor J.B. Neilands, Howard Harawitz, and myself.
We plan to support a candidate from the black community, encouraging him to lake a strong stand on the issues of the “new politics”: particularly, opposition to the Vietnam war, and support for student power as well as black power. The CNP has already endorsed Rev. Haziah Williams, a radical black minister for Berkeley School Board. A fourth CNP candidate, Bob Kaldenbach, is running for City Auditor, on the platform of replacing that petty bureaucratic post with the office of ombudsman, which will help citizens fight the City bureaucracy.
In this election, at least, we do not accept the notion that there is an inherent contradiction between a radical campaign and a high vote. Despite the general reputation of Berkeley as a progressive, enlightened community, run by benign “liberals,” there are very real problems in the city. And the fact that the present City Council has chosen to ignore them, does not mean they are being solved. If we may be permitted to borrow from a leading exponent of the other extreme, we believe it is time for Berkeley to come up from liberalism.
More than 25% of Berkeley’s young black male citizens are unemployed; there are upwards of 6000 families living below the poverty level in Berkeley (a city with a total population of 120,000); there is recurrent harassment of members of the minority and nonconformist communities; rents and utilities are too high. Life in Berkeley is boring: The City government should fill the cultural vacuum in Berkeley by sponsoring outdoor concerts and dances and even “happenings”; the Mime Troop and other theatrical groups should be invited to perform in Berkeley’s parks.
The men who now run Berkeley are incapable of dealing with these issues not only because they lack imagination, but, more importantly, because, whether or not they call themselves “conservatives,” they represent the business and real estate interests in the City. The present City Council’s “solution” to the “problem” of diversity and nonconformity is to appoint a “Blue Ribbon Committee” made up of businessmen and City and University bureaucrats to devise a plan for driving out the “undesirables” and transforming Berkeley into a middle-class, predominately-white community.
The CNP City Council campaign will project an alternative vision of Berkeley. We believe that Berkeley’s “left bank,” whose members have had the courage to defy the stifling pattern of conformity endemic to this society, should not only be protected but encouraged.
We are promoting an amendment to the Berkeley City Charter which will provide for more minority representation the Berkeley Hills should be represented in the City government, preferably by radicals like Joe Neilands, but 8 of the 9 Council members should not live in the hills, as is now the case.
The CNP campaign itself will be run democratically. To begin with, the three CNP candidates for City Council (and the fourth, for Auditor) were nominated by a meeting of some 200 people. And, during the campaign itself, major policy decisions will be made, at regularly scheduled meetings, by the people actually working in the various areas of the campaign.
A fundamental part of our approach to “city government” is the principle that the city should seek, wherever possible, to generate public profits, and to promote the public welfare be it economic, cultural, or educational. A natural monopoly like gas and electricity should not be a private windfall. Public ownership of the power system now controlled by the PG&E will enable Berkeley both to lower the power rates and to operate the power system on a public profit producing basis.
The money produced by public ownership of the power system can then be applied to the construction of low-cost housing and to community centers which will not be contracted with private firms but undertaken by the city itself. This will empower the city to directly employ black and other minority group workers.
Similarly, we do not believe, as the present City Council does, that the areas purchased by the City of Berkeley in connection with the rapid transit, should be turned over to private developers to build garish supermarkets (of which we already have too many) and more ticky-tacky houses (necessitating another song by Malvina Reynolds) all at public expense.
Rather, these areas should be used by the City itself for the construction of recreation facilities, child-care centers and scattered low-cost housing.
Finally, it is our conception of “city government” that city officials should concern themselves with every problem of major concern to the citizens in their community, whether or not these problems technically fall within their jurisdiction. Obviously, the struggle for student power on the University campus affects the people of Berkeley students and non-students and the Berkeley City Council should not only take a stand in favor of student rights, it should refuse to authorize the use of Berkeley police to settle a political dispute on campus.
The war in Vietnam is also of direct concern to the people of Berkeley and should be opposed by all officials. The CNP candidates will not only campaign for American withdrawal from Vietnam, but we will raise the larger question of the dependence of the economy locally and nationally on production of war materials.
We will call for the creation of an association of local governments, on a regional basis, to begin exploring and promoting the conversion of the economy from war production to peace production. And we will relate the problem of poverty to the misallocation of resources and funds necessitated by the “military-industrial complex.”
A campaign of this kind, involving people from the diverse communities in Berkeley, will have a radicalizing effect on the people in the area and may well give the left some measure of power however limited. We ask people to join with us in presenting a democratic, radical alternative to the people of Berkeley; to begin, on a local level, to build a society in which war, racism, poverty and exploitation are eliminated, and the words “beauty” and “love” have real meaning.