First Published: Guardian, September 1, 1972.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The New American Movement (NAM) has been struggling to come into existence for over a year and a half now.
NAM, which hopes to spark a mass-based, socialist movement in the U.S. remains “only a coordinating committee for a movement yet to be,” as one leading member modestly put it.
After its second convention last June – considered the founding Convention – NAM claimed 600 members in 40 scattered chapters. From all indications, the organization has not mushroomed since then.
But those who have worked hard to create NAM are not discouraged. They say that from the beginning they expected the organization’s growth to be a long, slow process. Many leading members clearly feel more comfortable with a small and somewhat shapeless organization than a larger and harder-edged one.
“I joined NAM because to work in isolation does not make a revolution. I don’t know what the line is, or what the blueprints are, or the way to go. I like the idea of a national movement and I don’t like dictating from the top.” said a New York member, explaining her attraction to NAM.
Her remark summarizes NAM’s activities to date. There is no current national project. Some chapters work in creating food co- ops. Others are involved in much more serious struggles for better housing and community daycare. The Minneapolis chapter, one of the most important, is active in the Honeywell Project, a research project that has documented the Honeywell Corp.’s Indochina war business and has led protests against it.
The Durham, N.C. chapter is mainly involved in the local women’s movement. One New York chapter puts out a bulletin for “workplace organizers.” Another has, worked in the Democratic party. In many areas, particularly the West Coast, NAM chapters are involved in the Indochina Peace Campaign.
NAM’s ideology, which is purposefully undeveloped, is extremely vulnerable. Its approach and program are consciously based on the pre-World War I Socialist party, which, while mass-based, was a politically chaotic collection of forces whose ultimate degeneration and demise seemed inevitable. To NAM, however, the political splits which wrecked the Socialist party – like the splits which were to wreck SDS two generations later – were more unfortunate than inevitable.
But while on the one hand NAM is an organization whose lack of internal development seems to preclude success, nevertheless, its political outlook represents the thinking of a large sector of the U.S. left.
A critical examination must also understand that within NAM attention has been given to several problems which the Leninist left has not yet solved for the U.S. This is NAM’s real strength.
The basic political statement decided upon in June concerns three decisive questions facing the U.S. left:
–What is U.S. capitalism and who will end it?
–What are the real relations between whites and what the
statement calls “the minorities” in the U.S, and how can these
divisions be overcome in the class struggle?
–What are the present relations between men and women and what role will the struggle for women’s liberation play in the fight for working-class power?
Many NAM members feel the group has done its most important and original analysis on the question of women’s oppression. “Women,” the political statement begins, “are central, not auxiliary, to the revolutionary class struggle.” Because women’s oppression stems from the “sexual division of production” – between the workplace and the home – then the struggle to overcome the sexual division of labor is central to all divisions of labor – that “divide the working class” – skilled and unskilled, employed and unemployed, blue collar and white collar.
The statement concludes that “the key to the liberation of women will be the creation of community-worker alliances that will challenge ruling class power over all spheres of life.” The areas of struggle in which this alliance is expected to emerge are welfare, childcare, “planned parenthood,“ and homosexual rights. Racism, according to the NAM document, arises from the low wages traditionally paid to black and other “third world” workers. It takes two forms: cultural racism – whites feeling superior – and institutional racism – “the direct economic and social oppression of racial groups.”
NAM both “supports the struggles of the autonomous third world movements as part of the general movement against capitalism in this country” and also calls for “the united struggle of all working people against the material oppression of third world people .” The fight against racism, NAM concludes, is a precondition for socialist revolution.
But the majority of U.S. workers have failed to attack “the oppression of third world people” far more often than not in U.S. history and NAM does not consider how such a struggle will emerge. Nor, after examination, does it offer an analysis that differs greatly from current liberal platitudes.
NAM defines the working class in such a way as to include everyone who performs labor: excluding bosses and their direct agents. In this definition, anyone, not a decision maker in the corporate system is a worker – industrial, service, white collar, shopkeepers, farmers, housewives and the unemployed, alike.
This outlook explicitly rejects “strategies that concentrate on a ’key’ sector of the working class to ’lead’ the revolution.” To say that industrial workers have a strategic importance, NAM suggests, is to “intensify the existing divisions” that prevent unity between plant workers, teachers. government employees and the unemployed.
Marx believed that industrial workers – all those who create surplus value – would be the leading sector of the proletariat because the material conditions of their work bring the most advanced consciousness. NAM, however, puts consciousness first by emphasizing social relations-how people relate to ownership and thus decision-making.
One does not need a profound knowledge of Marxism to see that NAM’s socialism is not the scientific socialism of Marx and Lenin, but the utopian socialism of those who preceded and later opposed them. One doesn’t have to closely examine the class background of NAM’s membership to see that its conceptions reflect the feelings of alienation and the longings for personal freedom of college- trained intellectuals and semi-professionals more than a scientific analysis of our society.
But, on the other hand, NAM’s insistence that the principal task of the socialist movement is to overcome divisions among working people at least invokes the most crucial questions which the Marxist-Leninist left has also yet to resolve:
–How are white workers to be won to class unity with black workers?
–Does the autonomous women’s movement strengthen the class struggle or distract from it? How can male supremacy be fought within the working class?
–Is it our first task at this time to unite everyone who can be united against U.S. monopoly capitalism, or is it to unify the proletariat?
–How should the left relate the world struggle against imperialism with the day-to-day struggles of the U.S. working class?