Why it's right for us to be militant
IN THE January 28 University of Washington Daily, Rebecca Kuensting attacks the International Socialist Organization for proposing "militant struggle" to oppose budget cuts and tuition increases. She feels that militant struggle must mean violence, or at least unproductive "stubborn displays of anger."
Let's look at the facts: On the federal level, the government gave $700 billion plus to the largest banks and backed them up with trillions in loan guarantees. It spends over $100 billion yearly to kill and occupy the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. At the same time, millions of people lose their homes, jobs and health care. Students face continual and massive tuition increases. Where is the bailout for workers and the poor?
The state of Washington has the most regressive tax structure in the U.S. The poorest 20 percent of the population in Washington pays 17 percent of its income in state taxes, while the richest only pay 3 percent. A modest increase in taxes on the rich or closing tax loopholes would end the budget shortfall at once.
At the University of Washington (UW) level, we have many administrators that make $150,000-plus a year. President Emmert makes nearly $1 million a year--and that doesn't count more than $300,000 from corporate boards, or his free mansion. At the same time, the UW lays off janitors and TAs, cuts back on office staff, increases class sizes, cuts course offerings, raises tuition and closes and cuts back libraries.
The priorities of the system from top to bottom favor the rich over the poor, business over labor, top paid administrators over students. While ordinary people suffer, the rich get bailed out and laugh all the way to the bank.
If this situation doesn't make you angry, where is your compassion or sense of justice? The excuse that there is no money for education or social programs because of the recession does not fly. The money is there--it just goes to the wrong people for the wrong purposes.
The crux of Kuensting's argument is at the end, "We need to enter dialogue with Washington decision makers and propose reasonable solutions."
This would be true if our goals and interests were the same. The problem is that they are not. The corporate heads and the politicians that represent them pursue the goal of the current economic system, maximization of profit--or as they often put it "creating a good business climate." Their goal is not fundamentally the well-being, jobs, health care or education of the majority.
Since the goals are different, what is "reasonable" to them is not reasonable to us. A "reasonable dialogue" will achieve their goals, not ours.
The way to make them grant some of our demands, which do cut into their profit margin, is to wage a struggle that interferes with their profit and power. This is what we mean by "militant" struggle--struggle that interrupts business as usual. Militant struggle will often be non-violent. As Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who Rebecca cites, put it, "If we realize how indispensable is responsible militant organization to our struggle, we will create it as we managed to create underground railroads, protest groups, self-help societies and the churches."
The need for militant struggle (disruptive, confrontational actions: sit-ins, strikes, and occupations such as the recent ones in California) is not just theoretical. As the great abolitionist and ex-slave Frederick Douglass put it,
If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will. Find out just what a people will quietly submit to, and you have found the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them.
The validity of Douglass' attitude has been shown over and over again in U.S. history. It took a civil war (an extreme form of "militant struggle") to free the slaves. It took a mass, very disruptive civil rights movement to win legal equality for African Americans. It took militant sit-down strikes and even battles with the police and National Guard for workers to win their right to organize unions, Social Security, welfare, unemployment compensation, the eight-hour day and the weekend.
The fundamental structure of power has not changed since these struggles. We still live by the "Golden Rule"--those with the gold make the rules. As long as society is divided by class, by wealth and power, it will take militant struggle threatening the interests of the rich to make them give us reforms.
Let's leave the last word to Howard Zinn, radical historian, activist and author of A People's History of the United States, who tragically died on January 27:
Yes dissent and protest are divisive, but in a good way, because they represent accurately the real divisions in society. The divisions exist--the rich, the poor--whether there is dissent or not, but when there is no dissent, there is no change. The dissent has the possibility ... of challenging the reality of that division. Changing the balance of power on behalf of the poor and oppressed.
Seattle branch, International Socialist Organization